Despite a wet year in Texas, the state could be on the verge of another massive drought event and must begin innovating in its water conservation efforts.
That’s the opinion of Texas District 122 Rep. Lyle Larson, chairman of the Texas House Natural Resources Committee and keynote speaker at the 17th annual Bell County Water Symposium held Wednesday on the Texas A&M University-Central Texas campus.
Larson’s address, titled “Water planning and implementation in Texas, now or never,” highlighted the state’s previous catastrophic droughts in the 1950s and 2011, and the state’s continued inability to prepare for the future.
Larson said Hurricane Harvey, which dumped nearly 34 trillion gallons of water on the Texas Gulf area, provided nearly eight years of capturable drinking water for the state — but was largely squandered by poor preparation.
“What did we do with that water?” Larson asked. “We let it run back to the Gulf. We didn’t really capitalize on that gift.”
Among the initiatives Larson said he supported was aquifer storage and recovery — or ASR — in which surface water is injected into existing aquifers and stored for future use.
Larson, a representative from San Antonio, highlighted the city’s expanding ASR program and other initiatives throughout the country.
“In this area, there’s a lot of a different ways you could do it,” Larson said. “I think this is the future of the state of Texas. You don’t plan two years from now — you plan 50 years from now.”
The keynote speech was part of a daylong program hosted by the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District that discussed the state of Bell County water rights and the government and private players involved in the area’s future water needs.
Prior to Larson’s address, David Collinsworth with the Brazos River Authority discussed the challenges facing water purchasers along the Interstate 35 corridor — where the population is expected to grow exponentially over the next 100 years.
“There’s no water on the I-35 corridor,” Collinsworth said. “People keep moving where the water is not.”
Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, the city of Killeen’s sole wholesale drinking water provider, contracts with the authority for water rights on Lake Belton and Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
Fights over water access have already ensnared area counties.
Bell County officials and residents are still pushing a lawsuit, fighting the city of Georgetown’s 2015 takeover of the Chisholm Trail Special Utility District, which will limit Bell County’s ability to sell water in its southern corridor without court intervention.
Despite increasing demand for water and the possibility of water fights in the future, Collinsworth was hopeful.
“I get asked all the time, ‘are we going to run out of water in Texas?’” Collinsworth said. “My answer is no — if we manage our water supplies effectively.”