By Michael Wilson – Horseshoe Bay, TX – Regardless of the amount of rain that fell and refilled reservoirs and aquifers during Hurricane Katrina, Tropical Storm Imelda, or flooding storms of October 2019, as of October 10, 2019 approximately 13,362,172 citizens of Texas are living in drought areas. According to the United States Drought Monitor, this is more than 65% of the State that is in an abnormally dry condition due to that drought. This drought is not an anomaly; Texas has a long history of droughts and suffering economic hardship as a result. The drought of the 1950s caused farmers and ranchers to lose millions of dollars, the droughts of 2010-2015 and 2017-2018 forced many ranchers to cull their herds in order to survive. For the future, climate change has cast an ugly pall over what might happen. According to a study released by the Environmental Protection Agency it is estimated that 14% of Texas’ farmland is irrigated and in the plains and the Panhandle the majority of the water that is used comes from irrigation that taps ground water taken from the High Plains Aquifer. Since the 1950s drought, that water reservoir has declined by approximately 50% and the future is bleak. The report goes on to say “Reduced water availability would create challenges for ranchers, as well as farmers who irrigate crops . Yields would decline by about 50 percent in fields that can no longer be irrigated.”
Individual farmers and ranchers are not the only ones impacted by these facts, the various communities that depend on those same water sources are at risk. The State’s entire water supply falls into two categories, groundwater, and surface water. Groundwater is that which is in aquifers, replenished via water filtering through limestone layers of earth. Surface waters are rivers, lakes, and above ground reservoirs. In 2014, municipalities accounted for over 50% of water taken from surface waters and irrigation accounts for another 22% In 2015, irrigation accounted for over 70% of water taken from ground water sources and municipalities accounted for another 20% from the same sources
Agricultural communities and municipalities are two very different demographic segments of the Texas economy, and they are the largest consumers of available Texas water. Agricultural communities are primarily in rural areas, while municipalities are home to not only the major urban areas, but also many smaller to mid-size cities. While it would be best to develop a statewide comprehensive water, conservation policy that equally affects both, that goal is unreasonable. It is imperative to take into consideration the needs and interests of both groups. Coordinating a water conservation program between the various political, economic, and business segments of the State requires a delicate balancing act and that takes into account the wide variety of objections that would be encountered. These objections often range from not being able to afford the technology needed to simple political resistance. There is an ingrained distrust of plans put forth by urban politicians and this distrust is exacerbated by the polarized political climate that exists today.