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Texas needs $53 billion (with a ‘b’) for water planning

Still crawling through our worst one-year drought on record, Texas got a scientifically informed kick in the ribs by State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon last week when he said the drought that has already wrought $5 billion in agricultural sector losses may not break until 2020. That makes the Texas Water Development Board’s new draft water management plan are all the more alarming. Those “worst case” scenarios — extended droughts that could cost the state $116 billion a year — now read more like an extended forecast. The draft warns that a rising state population over the next half-century will push water demand in Texas far past its dwindling supply, to the tune of an 8.3 million acre-feet gap by 2060 if Texas doesn’t put up major cash to shore up its water infrastructure.

To avoid future pain, the TWDB set the price tag at $53 billion, much more than the $31 billion the board asked for in 2007 and many, many billions more than the $100 million the Legislature allocated for water projects this year, noted Carolyn Brittin, a TWDB planning official, at a quiet public hearing in the San Antonio River Authority Board room Monday night. “Better safe than sorry, in my opinion.”

The plan anticipates that Texas’ population will swell to roughly 46.3 million people between now and 2060, an 82 percent population increase. All the while, through depletion of the Ogalalla Aquifer and increased silting of reservoirs, Texas’ overall water supply is projected to actually decrease by 10 percent over the next 50 years.

For the first time, the TWDB appears to be taking into account manmade climate change, stating: “In Texas, temperatures are likely to rise; however, the future precipitation trends are difficult to project. If temperatures rise and precipitation decreases, as projected by climate models, Texas would begin seeing droughts in the middle of the 21st century that are as bad or worse as those in the beginning or middle of the 20th century.” •

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