Brought to you by Texas Living Waters Project

Best Bets for Texas Water

Texas, we have a problem.

Water is everything.
But between growing populations, heat waves and severe droughts, it’s becoming scarce.

If we’re going to have enough fresh water for every living thing, Texas needs to make wise water choices – we can't wait any longer.

This project is a guide to charting Texas’ water future.

In order to design a wise way forward, our decision-makers and community members must have a shared understanding of how our decisions might impact our state’s environment, economy and long-term resilience. Read on as we explore the strategies in Texas’ water security toolbox, good and bad.

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Why should I be concerned?

When water never fails to fill our sinks, showers and hoses, it’s hard to grapple with the idea that one day there really might not be enough. But if Texas doesn’t start making informed, deliberate and innovative decisions today to plan for its water future, that could be our reality sooner than we think.

How could this happen? Simply put: water shortages are an issue of demand exceeding supply. Texas has only a limited amount of water. Even in wet years, it’s possible for Texas to use more water than it gets; in times of drought, it’s all too easy to dry up our aquifers, rivers and streams. The consequences can be tragic – not just for people, but for our natural heritage and wildlife, too.

That’s where water supply strategies come in. It’s not possible to create more water, but it is possible to help communities become more resilient by planning wisely for a future that very likely includes a much larger population, deeper droughts, and more severe storms. By making informed and forward-thinking decisions about where to invest Texans’ money, communities can prepare for both flood and drought without sacrificing wildlife and the environment.

Where does Texas water come from? Where does it go?

First things first: we can’t make a plan for Texas water if we don’t understand its path. 191,000 miles of named streams and major rivers snake across Texas, carrying the gift of fresh water to people and wildlife. Of these streams and rivers, the ones that begin in Texas (which is most of them, other than the Rio Grande) share similar origins: they are often spring-fed, which means water bubbles up from underneath the land’s surface and flows onward in the form of a river or stream.

The majority of the waterways that thread the state make their winding way to the Texas coast, where they bring life to an incredible network of bays and estuaries that support wildlife like oysters, blue crabs, redhead ducks, whooping cranes and our legendary game fish. These bays and the wildlife that call them home couldn’t exist without the freshwater inflows that come from rivers – their entire ecosystem depends on a healthy mix of salty and fresh water.

Just like the trees, birds, fish and oysters that call Texas home, you need this fresh water to survive.

The water we use every day can come from any point along Texas water’s path. Usually, we extract it from underneath the ground (aptly named “groundwater”) or we pull it from rivers (“surface water”) through a series of dams, pipelines and other large-scale pieces of infrastructure. Much of where a community gets the water depends on its region’s climate and water availability; each unique part of Texas has its own challenges and opportunities, and what makes sense for one community doesn’t always make sense for others.

Do you know where your water comes from? If you don’t, it’s time to find out. Knowing the source of your water will help you identify ways to protect it and make sure it is safe and clean. Understanding how drinking water gets to your home and water faucets is also an important step to becoming an advocate for fresh water for every living thing.

How to use this guide

We’ve assigned each strategy grades based on three criteria:

  • Environmental ImpactHow does this strategy impact rivers, springs, bays and wildlife?
  • True CostsThis criterion looks beyond dollar signs to the big picture. How does this strategy affect the Texas economy (and water customers whose wallets foot the bill for water supply projects)?
  • Long-term ViabilityDecades from now, will this strategy have been worth the investment? Looking forward, are there any opportunities and concerns that we already know to expect?

Here’s how to interpret our grades:

Relative to other strategies, this is as good as it gets – however, even a good strategy can be done poorly if it is not carefully implemented.

This strategy is promising on some fronts, but there are some real concerns.

When compared to other strategies, it’s hard to see the benefit of this one.

Disclaimer: We have evaluated these strategies relative to one another, based on currently available information and observations. We acknowledge that the water supply landscape is vast and nuanced and that each strategy must also be evaluated in the context of community size and type, region, geology and more. We also recognize that there are concerns involved with any new water supply project that removes water from its natural sources for human use, leaving less available water for downstream people, fish, bays and wildlife.
Some terms you should know
01. Aquifer

A below-ground area of permeable rock where water collects over time, almost like a groundwater reservoir.

02. Bay

A body of water that is partially enclosed by land and opens up into the ocean.

03. Estuary

A life-filled body of water where fresh water and salty ocean water mix. Many Texas bays are also estuaries.

04. Watershed

An area of land where water falls to the ground as rain or snow and then drains into a body of water such as a stream.

05. River basin

Includes all of the water that flows into a major river. There are multiple watersheds within a single basin.

06. Environmental flows

A measurement of both how much water flow is needed in a river for it to stay healthy, and when different levels of high and low flow should occur to sustain natural life cycles.

Water supply strategy chapters
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