A bright blue river flowing between green, tree-lined bank.
Blanco River Dolan Falls is fed by pristine freshwater springs. © Ian Shive

Stories in Texas

Texas Water Program

Securing Texas' Water Future

Water is the lifeblood of our state—and the key to healthy people, lands and wildlife. The Nature Conservancy in Texas has worked to protect and preserve the state’s freshwater ecosystems and water resources since our establishment in 1964. As Texas grows and prospers, securing our water future remains a critical priority for sustaining the health and resilience of our state.

In the coming years, a rapidly rising population and expanding urbanization will place undue stress on our water resources. Flow in nearly 75 percent of Texas rivers and water levels in all our major aquifers is declining. According to our State Water Plan, if no action is taken, we’ll be facing a statewide water shortage equivalent to an estimated $151 billion in annual economic losses by 2070. 

Moreover, with 60 percent of our state water consumption currently supporting Texas’ leading farming, ranching and agricultural industries, only 40 percent remains to produce energy, service our growing cities and sustain the environment’s natural balance. At the same time, more frequent and severe drought periods and catastrophic flooding add even more uncertainty to the future of Texas’ water resources.

Sustainable Rivers Program: Caddo Lake TNC has been involved in efforts to conserve Caddo Lake since the 1990s. Now, we're rethinking dam operations in the Big Cypress Bayou region to help restore river flows.

Conserving Healthy Lands and Waters

As a landowner in Texas, we understand how to be good stewards of our natural landscapes. Since 1964, TNC Texas has protected nearly 200 river miles through land conservation efforts. Our efforts benefit nearly a dozen different waterways around the state, including the Devils, Blanco, Trinity, Brazos, Frio, Nueces, Sabinal, Llano, San Saba and Pedernales rivers; Barton, Independence and Love creeks and Caddo Lake. Over the past 30 years, the Conservancy has established projects on nearly every major river in Texas and five major springs.

In addition, our network of 37 Texas nature preserves, representing 100,000 acres, serves as a field lab for developing best practices for water management and land protection alongside partners, landowners, conservation organizations, businesses and government agencies across the state. Safeguarding and stewarding the natural landscapes that support and safeguard our aquifers and rivers can help ensure that water continues to flow for the benefit of all—now and well into the future.

Texas Water Fast Facts

  • Land and water icon.

    80,000

    miles of rivers and streams across the state

  • Water icon.

    23

    river basins and seven major bays and estuaries

  • Water icon.

    31

    aquifers that supply ~60% of our annual water usage

Managing Water for the Future 

As we face a changing water landscape, TNC is working to promote informed and sustainable water management by:

  • Advancing water research and policy solutions. Simply put, what we do to land and water above ground impacts the quality and quantity of the water below—and all of those factors critically affect the health of our communities and the environment. Increasing decision makers’ understanding of these complex connections informs essential water protection and management efforts at local, regional and state levels.
  • Strengthening best groundwater management practices. We work with water resource managers across the state to fill in gaps in the science and research around groundwater and surface water dynamics. By better understanding their interaction, we can help inform decision makers about how today’s water management decisions might impact the environment in the future.
  • Allocating water for the environment. When Texas’ water rights system was initially created, it granted the use of water without recognizing environmental water needs. Over time, this left little to no water to support our aquatic ecosystems and the fish wildlife that depend on them. Ensuring that portions of the state’s aquifers and rivers are protected and reserved for environmental uses ensures that our ecosystems—and the fish and wildlife that depend on them—can survive and thrive.
  • Rethinking dam operations to restore river flows. In Big Cypress Bayou in northeast Texas, TNC is working to modify existing dam operations to restore the health of the surrounding ecosystem and recover the environmental and social benefits that have been compromised by dam infrastructure.
Three people along the shore of a stream at Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Preserve looking at and recording data on freshwater mussels that are lined up on the ground.
Identifying Mussels Freshwater mussel surveys conducted by our staff and interns give us an indicator of water quality in local creeks and streams. © Kenny Braun
Two people wading in a stream holding a seine net between them.
In the Field Our scientists perform hydrological research at water sources around the state to better understand their behavior and function. © Kenny Braun

Utilizing Market Approaches to Conserve Water for the Environment

Maintaining Texas’ unique water resources and meeting the state’s future water demand isn’t possible if we continue to draw down finite water resources at the rate we are now—nor without addressing the impacts of climate change on the natural resources of our state. Innovative, market-based tools like environmental water transactions, water funds and incentive programs for sustainable agricultural practices create lasting conservation benefits in light of our growing water challenges:

  • Environmental water transactions allow water right holders like farmers, landowners, municipalities and industrial water users to voluntarily trade their water rights to willing buyers—through leases, transfers, efficiency improvements and more—to address water shortages and keep more water flowing in our rivers and streams when it’s needed most.
  • Water funds unite everyone around a common goal: securing water supplies by protecting natural systems. Funded by those benefiting from the ecosystem service supplied by the protection of the natural system—most often the businesses and water consumers in nearby cities—water funds work because it’s cheaper to prevent water problems at the source than to address them downstream.
  • Farmers and ranchers are vital to our way of life. They grow our food and produce fuel, fiber and building materials, and as the original land stewards, are among our greatest conservation allies. Using market incentives, we are working to promote crop rotations that embrace diversity, the planting of cover crops, increasing irrigation efficiency, reducing till systems and utilizing precision farming. These practices will help us to feed the growing population of our state while ensuring clean and abundant water supplies, healthy lands, and a stable climate.