From The Ground Up - Planning For The Next Drought

The 2017 State Water Plan was adopted by the Texas Water Development Board earlier this year. The plan addresses the water needs that accompany Texas’ rapid growth by identifying water management strategies and their associated costs for communities across the state. History tells us that when we’re not in a drought it’s only a matter of time before we experience another one. John Tracy is the director of Texas A&M’s Texas Water Resources Institute.

“You look at the state water plan, and it’s really focused not so much on what the average water conditions are, but how do we get through the next bad drought. When you look at that and look at where the water planning is, there’s a pretty big gap in what is listed as demand and what is listed as supply in terms of the next drought. It’s a significant gap of over six million acre feet of water.”

Tracy maintains that answering a few questions before the next drought will be helpful when the drought does occur.

“What I’ve learned is that there’s this sort of this engineering term we use as demand and it’s sort of like how much water do people want? But then there’s the economic concept of demand which is how much are you willing to pay for water? What I think needs to happen there in terms of looking at that gap is not sort of focusing on well, we’re going to be six million acre feet short of water because if the water isn’t there decisions will be made that water won’t be used in some areas.”

Tracy says that the focus needs to be on what the different water use sectors will be during the next drought.

“That is, what are the cities willing to pay? What are the agricultural communities willing to pay? How much are they going to pay for this water, and that’s going to tell you who is going to be using water and what the potential economic consequences are.”

Tracy reiterated that in terms of how much water people will want to use we know that we’ll be six million acre feet short.

“What we don’t know is when we don’t have that six million acre feet what’s going to happen. And that’s something that I think we need to focus on and better understand that so communities that may be short of water understand what the economic consequences will be and they can be better prepared for that because the water won’t magically show up, but the economic consequences will definitely show up.”