focus water

Texas State Park police officer Thomas Bigham walks across the cracked lake bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in San Angelo.

The exponential population growth Texas is experiencing should be met with a focused agenda brought forth by the new leadership that will emerge in Austin in the next election cycle. The new ideas presented by these fresh faces should include beginning an open dialogue with our neighboring states and investing in new technology to bolster our state’s water supply, rather than relying on the same approaches that have failed to provide us a water supply for future generations to rely on. In a time of record-setting drought, we need constructive and innovative approaches to governing, along with a commitment to leave the bravado at the door.

Much like the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Texas needs a strategic water reserve that ensures our state’s water security into the future. Achieving this will require a paradigm shift that includes working with neighboring states and utilizing new technology and innovative strategies.

Would Toledo Bend, constructed by the Sabine River Authority of Texas and Sabine River Authority of Louisiana for the purposes of water supply, hydroelectric power and recreation, be built in today’s political environment? Most experts would answer this with a resounding “No!” Unfortunately, relationships between Texas and the states that border it are strained at best. Instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue, lawsuits are the modus operandi.

Rather than asking the U.S. Supreme Court to call the shots when it comes to trading water with other states, Texas should lead by developing a five-state water council to address our water shortages and their surplus inventory in a very humble way. Our state leadership should travel with hat in hand to Oklahoma City, sit down with their state leadership and the tribal councils and negotiate a compromise that will ultimately result in a modern-day water project the size of Toledo Bend.

If developed correctly, this five-state block will become the leading global region in the world and largest incubator of technology in water, energy and telecommunications. There is no question that regional economies thrive better than isolated ones.

Aquifer Storage and Recovery

In response to the drought of record in the 1950s, Texans got busy and built 60 percent of our state’s current surface water storage. Our generation of Texas leadership needs to respond similarly to our own historic drought using emerging technologies such as desalination and aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) to ultimately create our own strategic water reserve.

Currently, the 2012 Texas State Water Plan includes 26 new reservoirs at a total cost of $13.2 billion. As we’ve witnessed evaporation of surface water plague our state over the last two years, we can be reasonably sure that, if built, these reservoirs will experience over 50 percent evaporation. Who would invest in a project that loses 50 percent of its product?

Because ASR provides for underground storage and retrieval of water without losing any to evaporation, many other states have turned to this strategy to store water for their future needs. Florida boasts 26 ASRs, with 15 more in the works. Las Vegas, the city that boasts the largest ASR in the country, now stores 320,000 acre feet of water underneath city streets.

In lieu of constructing controversial reservoirs that entails flooding thousands of acres of prime land in Texas, we should explore how states in west and southern sectors are storing water underground. With some 5 billion acre feet of underground storage capacity in the region, there is no reason to continue the strategy of building surface water reservoirs.

In an average year of rainfall, Texas loses 43 million acre feet of runoff that ultimately flows into the Gulf of Mexico. To halt this, we must build a series of ASRs along each major river to capture this water and build our strategic water reserve for the sustainability of future generations. ASR projects can be developed five times faster at a much lower cost than surface water projects.

Now is the time to join our neighbors in constructing the Southwestern States’ Strategic Water Reserve. Come November, we will ask you for your support to fund our state water plan. In return, we should use the best, most cost-effective approach to implement it. Our state’s viability depends on it and our leadership’s legacy will be determined by it.

State Rep. Lyle Larson is a Republican lawmaker who represents San Antonio.