Steps Texas should take to become a leader in the water conservation effort

Texas State Capitol at night. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The State of Texas must take a lead role in ensuring efficient use of limited water resources in communities throughout the state. In particular, more should be done at the state level to incentivize and require improved local water conservation.

Two state agencies that are key to achieving this are the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which manages the state’s water rights permitting system, and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), which provides planning support, financial assistance and information for the conservation and development of Texas water.

Want to learn how Texas could use water more efficiently on a local level? Click here to read common-sense measures that would help municipalities conserve water, or click here to learn how Texas cities could reduce outdoor water use.

The Texas Living Waters Project recommends that the State takes the following actions:

1. Establish water efficiency requirements for water rights applicants

With the growing challenge of meeting Texas’ water needs, new water rights or major water rights amendments to use the public’s water should not be issued unless the applicants are currently using existing water supplies as efficiently as possible.

2. Perform a substantive review of water conservation plans when providing funding

TWDB provides significant financial support to municipal water suppliers and wastewater service providers. Applicants requesting $500,000 or more must submit water conservation plans with their application. However, the review of these plans is primarily administrative (to see if the plans include required information) and not substantive (to see if the plans will actually use water efficiently) in nature. A substantive review is needed.

3. Enhance review of required water conservation plans for surface water

The State of Texas requires those who hold large surface water permits to submit conservation plans with five- and ten-year targets for water savings. However, these plans frequently lack ambitious goals and do not include concrete plans for actually achieving the goals.

4. Fund the Water IQ program

In 2007, the State of Texas created a state water education program called “Water IQ.” The program is accompanied by the slogan “Know Your Water,” reflecting the research finding that people are more likely to conserve water if they understand where their water comes from and why it is important to protect it and use it efficiently. Unfortunately, the State has not funded the implementation of this program.

5. Revise the state water planning and funding process

Although the 2012 plan envisions that 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 by more aggressive conservation initiatives. The role of water conservation as a water management strategy must be enhanced in the State Water Plan.  In addition, any new mechanism for financing water management strategies in the plan should ensure that effective water conservation programs are implemented on an ongoing basis.