Future-of Water In Texas



Water resource planning in Texas is an on-going process involving local, regional, and state water planners and the Texas Legislature.  In 1995, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, establishing sixteen water planning regions across the state to provide for grass-roots water planning giving input to the state-wide planning process.  Each of the regions is represented by a Planning Group composed of individuals representing various interests.  The regional groups evaluate the available supplies in their region as well as the current and projected water needs, and develop strategies to meet the forecasted needs over the next fifty years.  These regional plans are then forwarded to the Texas Water Development Board which approves them and incorporates the Regional Plans into a comprehensive State Water Plan.  Water projects which need state financial assistance or some form of permit from the State must be included in the approved State Water Plan, or they cannot proceed.  The process is repeated every five years, so that changes in needs or technological advances can be quickly incorporated.

The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority (CRMWA) participates in two Regional Water Planning Groups, because its member cities span a large geographical area.  CRMWA’s water resources and three of its member cities (Borger, Pampa, and Amarillo) are located within the Panhandle Water Planning Region (Region A) which covers most of the Texas Panhandle.  Water from the CRMWA’s resources is transported into the Llano Estacado Water Planning Region (Region O) where the cities of Plainview, Lubbock, Slaton, Tahoka, O’Donnell, Lamesa, Levelland, and Brownfield are located.

Historically, CRMWA provided water to its member cities from a surface water source, Lake Meredith.  After 2001, some groundwater resources were added to improve water quality and to increase the available supply to better meet the needs of the cities.  However, the surface water resource has dwindled, so that no surface water has been available since 2011.  This circumstance has required CRMWA to increase its use of groundwater, and for the member cities to meet more of their needs from their local resources.  In some cases, it has been necessary for them to expand their local resources to make up the supply which was previously available from CRMWA. The area of water rights held by CRMWA has been expanded to assure that supplies will be adequate, but the infrastructure to transport the groundwater was not planned to meet the full needs of the cities and will have to be expanded if the surface water supply is not replenished to some degree.  Since about 2005, drought conditions have held sway in the drainage basin that serves Lake Meredith, and there is uncertainty as to the prospects for the return of “normal” climatic conditions.

Under these conditions, planning by CRMWA to meet the needs of its member cities will need to include enhanced transportation infrastructure, to bring the available groundwater to a point where it can be incorporated into the original aqueducts which once brought lake water to the cities, and expansion of CRMWA’s wellfields to provide the needed water.  All of these needs will generate very substantial expense which will ultimately have to be borne by the member cites, so that financial assistance from the state would be very helpful.  These considerations all enter directly into the Regional and State water planning process, with the timing of new construction to be decided by the level of need and financial capabilities of the member cities.

Statewide, population growth projections indicate that Texas will undergo significant expansion in the coming decades, with some areas growing much more rapidly than others.  The Panhandle and South Plains areas where CRMWA cities are located are heavily engaged in irrigated agriculture, with about 90% of the total water use consumed by that endeavor.  Groundwater in the area is recharged only very slowly, so water planning in this area is very different from that in the wetter regions of the State.  With no new surface water reservoirs feasible in the High Plains, non-agricultural uses will become more critical and more expensive as it is necessary to move water greater distances to meet the needs of humans.  Agricultural users cannot afford to pay those costs, and will need to change agrarian practices to survive.