AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Wednesday, the Texas House’s Natural Resources Committee met to hear testimony on the condition of Texas’ water and flood mitigation infrastructure and water supply to weigh what changes to the infrastructure are needed in the future.
Jennifer Walker with the National Wildlife Federation told lawmakers Wednesday the state is wasting hundreds of thousands of square acre feet of water per year.
“We did an analysis that indicates that as of 2020, Texas utilities were losing at least 572,000 acre feet per year,” Walker explained. “It’s equal to the 2020 water demand of the cities of Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso, Lubbock and Laredo combined.”
She says fixing old infrastructure is just as important as considering new water development projects.
“This is water that we already have access to. We’re already using pumps to pull it out of a lake or out of groundwater. We’re treating it in our water treatment plants. We are pumping it through our distribution lines in our communities. And as it moves through our community, to its endpoint, it’s being lost through infrastructure,” Walker explained.
She said it’s also cost-effective, especially compared to supply-side water management strategies like seawater desalination and new reservoirs.
“So investing in water looks like investing in programs like acoustic leak detection and repair, small and large meter replacement so that we’re measuring water accurately, advanced pressure management so that the water isn’t over-pressurized and leaking through for our pipes,” Walker explained.
Climate change only makes solutions more important.
“We really think that Texas and Texans are experiencing climate change through their water supply and through water infrastructure. So we were really talking a lot about flood mitigation and then also about water supply,” Walker said.
Kathy Coyle and her husband’s well in southwest Austin went dry for the first time this week.
“We’ve been here 11 years, and we’ve never had a problem,” Coyle explained. “This is the wellhead, and the equipment here controls how much is getting pulled out on the ground, which is nothing right now.”
She needs the water to sustain both herself and her husband, their 10 chickens, 3 dogs and 4 cats on their property.
“Yesterday, I turned on the water to brush my teeth. And I was like, what?! And I have bottled water, so I knew it was coming. But I was hoping that the rain the day before was enough,” Coyle explained.
She said they’re collecting a decent amount of rainwater for the animals but are having to depend on their nearby in-laws and bottled water for themselves.
“We each go twice a week over their house to shower and to wash hair and laundry and get potable water,” Coyle said.
She ordered a delivery of water to fill their 2,500-gallon tank out back in the meantime, but that won’t be delivered until next week.
“I have to wait till the 29th,” she said, adding that it’s going to cost them $170.
Coyle said she wants state lawmakers to help Texans like her, whether that be through curbing development or coming up with a plan to distribute water to neighbors who may suffer when new development comes in.
“They keep building developments. They just put in a cement plant over there [that] uses an incredible amount of water on a daily basis,” she said.
She’s not sure how often they’ll have to refill their tank since she’s never had to keep track of their usage before. They’re hoping the aquifer below rejuvenates itself soon.
“If we can stay on this water suppliers list hopefully that the aquifers will recharge, but I believe it’s the Trinity aquifer, and Edwards is where we get our water from; Edwards recharges okay, but supposedly Trinity takes a long time. So I don’t know how long it’ll take for the aquifers,” Coyle said.
Walker said she’s heard plenty of stories like Coyle’s this summer, and only expects to hear more as climate change continues to make an impact.
“It’s absolutely a way that we are experiencing climate change. And there’s real everyday impacts,” Walker said.
If the state does improve aging water infrastructure, the federation projects we could be saving more than half of that 572,000 acre feet of water lost each year. That full study can be found here.
This was an interim hearing Wednesday. The next legislative session doesn’t begin until January 2023.