Few people are kidding themselves that the $2 billion voters set aside for water projects in November will be sufficient to quench Texas' growing thirst. The population is growing too fast and the prospect of drought looms too large. Coping with that will take some combination of new infrastructure, technological advances and the slaughter of the firstborn.
Most agree that will also take a good deal of conservation as well, but you won't find that mentioned much in Comptroller Susan Combs' new special report on Texas' looming water shortage. Instead, the report suggests that Texas can invent its way out of its water problem.
Unclear on what exactly that will entail? Combs helpfully translates that into a language Texans can understand: petroleum.
"In many ways, the outlook concerning fresh water could mirror what has happend [sic] for oil, another finite resource," the report says. "Oil markets have been upended in the last few years by vast new supplies brought to market by the application of new technologies, in this case the use of increasingly sophisticated horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques.
"It's possible -- though not certain -- that similar game-changers will effect the outlook for water."
Several pages later, after explaining how a wildlife nonprofit's attempt to ensure habitat for endangered whooping cranes and Mexico's water deficit to the U.S. threaten Texas' water supply, she lists some potential "game-changers" like storing water in aquifers to prevent evaporation and contamination; transferring water between basins; and desalinating ocean water and brackish aquifers. A full page is devoted to the great strides the fracking industry has made to cut back on water usage.
Combs finally gets around to conservation at the end when she suggests that the Legislature "consider establishing a program providing grants to water authorities and major water users to help them achieve meaningful increases in water efficiency due to conservation activities."
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Not a bad idea per se, but it's well short of the water-saving mandates environmentalists were pushing for during last year's debate over the state water fund, and it's hard to see such a soft approach making a major dent in consumption.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.