Ravages of drought not far from Texans’ minds

Jeremy Mazur

 

By JEREMY B. MAZUR

Texas 2036

 

The trials of drought weave throughout the story of Texas in tales of devastation that had lasting effects on the families, businesses and communities that survived them. These withering dry times prompted Texans to make big changes to shore up their water resources.

After the historic Drought of Record of the 1950s, Texas embarked on a mammoth reservoir building spree, banking more water for growing and thirsty communities. More recently – after the disastrous drought in 2011, when counties burned as some towns came perilously close to running out of water – state voters approved a payment plan to build more water supply projects.

Texas 2036’s latest Texas Voter Poll found that the threat of drought remains etched in the Texas psyche. The State Climatologist’s prediction that Texas will endure more extreme weather events, including drought and excessively hot days, makes 77% of voters concerned. Moreover, a majority of Texas voters replied that they are extremely or very concerned about Texas’ extreme weather trends.

Drought worries precipitate bigger concerns about water access. Nearly nine in ten Texas voters expressed concern about communities’ abilities to access water during the next severe drought. This level of concern is exceptionally high, especially after the decades state and local officials have spent planning and building water projects. Even though Texas has done much to fortify its water supplies since the drought of the 1950s, voters still worry that their taps may one day run dry.

Key data shows Texans are right to worry about drought and water access. The State Water Plan estimates that by 2070, Texas will face a long-term water deficit (where demands outstrip available supplies) of 6.9 million acre-feet; that’s roughly as much water as 7-14 million households use in a year. In the meantime, the State Climatologist forecasts a 3-degree increase in the average temperature between now and 2036, accelerating evaporative losses from our reservoirs as the likelihood of greater drought severity grows.

These concerns about drought and access to water show that Texans are open to new ways of thinking about water management. Nearly three-fourths of Texas voters agree that our state cannot build enough reservoirs to meet its growing needs. Given this limitation, voters say we must rethink water management and stewardship, serving the needs of our growing state by considering more efficient alternatives to reservoir building.

Such alternatives include water markets and water pricing, which introduce an essential but missing element to Texas’ water discussion: the market value of water.

Texas has a semi-arid climate. Water can be scarce and harder to find when droughts intensify, and more people are drinking it.

By assigning a market value to water that better reflects its economic worth, the state can encourage smarter, more efficient ways of using it. Water markets and pricing discourage waste and place a premium on efficiency. They encourage innovations to help Texans use water wisely, such as reuse (where water is cleaned and recycled for other beneficial purposes) and conservation. Moreover, water markets provide an important mechanism for state water management, enabling voluntary transactions to move water to where it’s needed.

The ravages of drought will continue to weave into Texas’ story, and voters recognize the dangers ahead. But while challenges will persist, there are opportunities to more efficiently manage precious water resources so that every Texan has access to safe, reliable water. By expanding water markets, Texas can open doors to wiser water management, enabling smarter use of a precious resource.

 

Jeremy Mazur is a senior policy advisor at Texas 2036.

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