Reservoirs or Conservation?
The 2012 State Water Plan proposes building 26 reservoirs and hundreds of miles of pipelines to move water to cities. The reservoirs proposed in this plan represent a significant increase from 14 proposed in the 2007 Plan. These reservoirs, many of them proposed for East Texas sites, would have harmful impacts on the local economies and the environment. Many of these projects are unnecessary and could be avoided with responsible water conservation measures.
Damming a river destroys the wildlife habitat in the flooded area, but the impact of a reservoir does not end there. Dams alter the natural flow of the river downstream and affect wildlife habitat below the reservoir. Dams trap waterborne sediments that are important for replenishing ecosystems downstream. Water in a reservoir often has a different temperature and oxygen level than water in a free-flowing river and water released from a reservoir can adversely affect water quality downstream , potentially impacting native fish and vegetation.
Statewide, the amount of forested river and creek floodplain wetlands has declined from an estimated 16 million acres to 6 million acres. A significant portion of this loss is due to the roughly 200 major reservoirs that have already been built. Read the proposed Marvin Nichols reservoir case study to learn more about this issue.
Conservation is the Future
Water conservation offers a significantly less costly and less environmentally harmful alternative to reservoirs for meeting the needs of people and the environment in the future. By enhancing the role of water conservation as a water management strategy in the State Water Plan, we could reduce the need for many economically and ecologically damaging reservoirs and pipeline projects. Although the 2012 Plan envisions that almost one-fourth of the state’s future water demands would be met through municipal or agricultural water conservation efforts, there is much more that can be accomplished through more aggressive conservation initiatives. Most of those savings are projected to come from agricultural water conservation measures but there is much untapped potential in additional municipal water conservation efforts.
For example, the San Antonio Water System pumps no more water today than it did 20 years ago, despite the tremendous population increase in San Antonio that occurred. This was possible because of the city’s ambitious and effective water conservation program over that time period. If more water suppliers were to match that level of effort, water conservation would be a much more significant management strategy for meeting water demands in future water plans and could displace other, more expensive and potentially environmentally destructive, water management strategies such as dams and reservoirs.
Read the Texas Living Waters Project report on how saving water could save money and preserve some of Texas’ wild places and visit the section on Water Conservation to learn more about the potential for water conservation in Texas.