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The best time to plan for drought is when we aren’t in one

Drought is nothing new to Texans; it is frequent and inevitable. Across much of Texas the end of the current drought is being declared—soil moisture levels are nearing normal and ephemeral rivers are flowing again—while other portions of the state are already on the verge of slipping back into drought conditions despite recent rains. This reprieve from drought is a most welcome relief, yet we can be certain there is another drought around the corner. Drought, unlike a hurricane or flood, doesn’t have a distinct beginning or end. Drought is a creeping phenomenon that is, in the most basic terms, defined by the lack of precipitation. However, some municipalities define drought by water treatment...

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Environmental Flow Battle on the Brazos

As Texas ebbs and flows between drought and flooding, one of the largest applications for a surface water right that the state has ever seen has been slowly progressing through the administrative legal system. As proposed by the Brazos River Authority (BRA) and TCEQ’s Executive Director, the permit does not come close to protecting environmental flows adequate to protect a sound ecological environment. TCEQ adopted environmental flow standards in 2014 for the Brazos basin as part of the Senate Bill 3 (S.B.3) environmental flow process. Under S.B.3 all pending water right applications in that basin are required to comply with those standards. Unfortunately, those standards, adopted through a lengthy process, fall short of what...

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Looking into the crystal ball: 2014-15 Galveston Bay oyster season

Texas’ commercial oyster season began November 1, 2014 and runs until April 30, 2015. Last year’s harvest was marked by drought, an oil spill, and a toxic algal bloom. Historically, Galveston Bay oysters accounted for about 72% of Texas total harvest by weight; however, the last 3 seasons dropped to 42%. Given these challenges, will the 2014-2015 harvests improve? There is no easy answer, but let’s take a look at what we know. The Basics on Oysters The Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) is native to Galveston Bay. Oyster reefs were once prevalent throughout Galveston Bay, but the range has greatly declined.  Among the suite of factors behind this demise are physical factors like oyster shell...

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Texas’ Courts Legal Treatment of Groundwater is Fluid

Groundwater rights have been hotly debated in Texas for as long as there has been the ability to pump it. Unlike surface water, which is owned by the state and held in trust for the public, Texas courts have ruled that groundwater is the surface owner’s vested private property. This vested right can be regulated by Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCD). But not all regions have GCDs and their regulatory approaches can vary greatly even if they are present, so the primary legal rule governing groundwater pumping is the Rule of Capture. This rule was adopted by the Texas Supreme Court as the governing principle of groundwater law over a century ago. The Court did...

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Next Steps for San Antonio’s Vista Ridge Project

This blog was written with the assistance of Amy Hardberger, Assistant Professor of Law at St. Mary's University Last week, the San Antonio City Council unanimously voted to move forward with the Vista Ridge Project that plans to bring 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater from Burleson County to the city. Because of our many concerns with this project, the vote was a disappointment, but last Thursday’s Council deliberation did stir some positives worth discussing. Edwards Aquifer Protection Environmental groups have been publicly criticized for opposing the Vista Ridge project. Project supporters argue environmentalists should support the project reasoning the additional water will reduce pumping on the Edwards Aquifer. Indeed, it does seem that initially the water from...

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Financing Sustainable Water: Tools for Solving the Revenue/Conservation Paradox

There are many reasons to get excited about water conservation. However, one big question that water utilities often confront is how can a utility sustain itself financially if it encourages its customers to buy less of its product? Solutions to this challenge don’t lend themselves to quick and easy explanations, which is why the Texas Living Waters Project, in conjunction with Texas Water Foundation and the Alliance for Water Efficiency, is hosting one-day seminars in both Houston and Dallas. The seminars are designed to provide information utilities need to navigate the challenges of revenue volatility, scarce supply, variable weather, and declining demand. Water resource professionals, and water conservation advocates willing to embrace the details, will...

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Vista Ridge Project Creates More Questions Than Answers

UPDATE: My  statement from the public hearing can be read here. This blog was written with the assistance of Tyson Broad with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club For those who are keeping track, we are in year 4 of a statewide drought. Although some areas have received rainfall relief, the continuing drought has led many communities to ponder whether they have enough water for their future and, if not, where more water can be procured. Unfortunately, new water isn’t something that can easily be bought or delivered. It’s expensive, the infrastructure is lacking and the locals often don’t want it exported away from their region. Last spring, we posted a piece about a...

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Evaporation – a loss for humans and wildlife in Texas

As the current Texas drought drags on, it’s becoming commonplace to hear about yet another lake somewhere in the state reaching a new record low level. According to the 2012 Texas State Water Plan, about 40% of our water supplies today in Texas are drawn from so-called “lakes”. With the exception of Caddo Lake on the Louisiana border, all the lakes in Texas are actually water reservoirs that result from dams built on our rivers and streams. The state’s reservoirs can be likened to a checking account and the normal deposits from river and stream flows have been extremely low due to the drought. Since we continue to withdraw our water supplies from...

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Motivated by Deadlines? Here’s One for You: Sept. 1

In today’s fast-paced society, it’s hard to keep up with all the important things we would like to do – like, for example, create a sustainable water future for Texas! Deadlines often help to spur us to take action. Well, here’s a deadline for you: September 1, 2014. Yes, that’s Labor Day 2014. But it’s also the deadline for public comments on the proposed rules to implement House Bill 4. HB 4 is the water funding legislation passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013. It took effect with voter passage of Prop 6 on last November’s state constitutional amendment ballot. By approving Prop 6 Texas voters authorized the creation of the State Water Implementation...

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Limits to outdoor watering become a permanent part of the Texas landscape

As Smart Irrigation Month ends and summer temperatures continue to rise, outdoor irrigation continues to be limited across much of Texas. Some outdoor irrigation restrictions are always in effect through water conservation policies, whereas others are temporarily triggered as a result of drought response. Water conservation strategies reduce the consumption, loss, or waste of water at all times, whereas drought response is triggered during dry periods to ensure critical water needs are met. Cities across Texas have adopted water conservation policies that limit outdoor lawn irrigation as a way to reduce water waste and stretch existing water supplies. The City of Fort Worth is among the most recent to adopt no more than twice per...

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