“In serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises.” --From the Texas Water Development Board 2012 draft State Water Plan
Clean, reliable water has traditionally been viewed in this country as an inalienable right. Often taken for granted in even the more arid parts of the country, in Texas changing weather patterns, record heat and wildfires formed a formidable threat to the long-held belief that water will always be here for us to use as we wish. In Texas, the drought of 2011 fundamentally changed the landscape. Texans have realized that we have a new reality:
- The 12-month period between October 2010 and 2011 was the driest in Texas history. One hundred percent of the state experienced some form of drought and virtually all Texas counties were under a near-permanent burn ban. As of January 2012, there were still 118 counties (of 254) under some sort of burn ban, primarily in south, west and north Texas.
- Half of all the rivers in Texas are flowing at 10 percent or below normal flow. Lakes Buchanan and Travis—which serve Central Texas communities—are currently at less than 40 percent capacity. As of December 2011, agricultural losses had topped $5 billion; many ranchers sold off their cattle and those still hanging on have been paying premium prices for supplies.
- According to a January 2012 report from the Texas Forest Service, as many as 500 million trees across the Lone Star State died as a direct result of the 2011 drought. That’s 10 percent of Texas’ 4.9 billion trees.
- Texas’ population is set to double to nearly 50 million people by 2060, but our water supplies will decrease by 10 percent. Our Texas State Water Plan has a $53 billion price tag and calls for one quarter of our future water supplies to come from conservation. But it currently sits on a shelf, unfunded. And there is no comprehensive game-plan for achieving the conservation numbers.
If history has shown us anything, it’s that things can unfortunately get worse—some meteorologists predict this drought will continue through at least 2013. While we cannot control the climate, we can change course and engage in serious-minded conservation tactics.
What we can do as a state is encourage lawmakers statewide to fund the Texas Water Plan. We’ve got billions of dollars in ideas but they mean little if our state plan goes unfunded. As part of this, the Conservancy will continue doing its part to draft and advocate legislation that makes a difference.
One of the most important tools in our toolbox is land protection—protecting the land where our water first falls. Since 95 percent of land in Texas is privately owned, The Nature Conservancy works diligently with landowners, citizens, local governments and business and to ensure protection of vital watersheds and aquifers. In partnership with the city of San Antonio and private landowners, we’ve helped protect more than 85,000 acres of land using public funds, including 21 percent of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.
Some of our recent protection projects include:
- The acquisition of Nash Prairie, a pristine piece of prairie land that helps filter water flowing into the Trinity River.
- A partnership with Austin to protect 600+ acres atop the highly sensitive Edward’s Aquifer recharge zone
- A collaboration with Travis County to conserve waterfront property along the Pedernales River and protect the iconic Hamilton Pool.
We also use one of the most straightforward but elegant tools out there—water protection funds. These water funds can be used on a large scale in major metropolitan areas across the state, and best of all, they are citizen-approved public investments in water protection. They are practical, customizable and proven to work. In the last decade, the Conservancy has worked extensively and with great success alongside local governments in Central Texas to invest over $500 million in water protection funds.