Monday, December 10, 2012

Facing yet another extended drought, Texas wakes up to water shortages

There is no doubt that Texas is in dire need of a well-funded water plan, and lawmakers on both Republicans and Democrats appear ready to do something this year. Part of the impetus comes from experiencing the worst single-year drought in Texas history in 2011. The rest comes from the realization Texas isn't ready for the next one. ...

Next year lawmakers will hear from a number of constituents with competing interests on water. Timber companies don't want any more East Texas land flooded, many high-tech companies need water for new plants, ranchers don't want pipelines cutting across their land, farmers want a share of river water for irrigation and fisherman need freshwater flowing into Gulf Coast estuaries. Not to mention growing cities like Dallas, Austin and San Antonio that need more drinking water.

The Legislature must also decide what to do with a Texas Supreme Court decision earlier this year that guaranteed landowners the right to all of the groundwater beneath their land, subject to only limited regulation. Most states abandoned the so-called Rule of Capture long ago in order to more carefully manage the flow of water through aquifers. But in Texas, where landownership reigns supreme, the state relies on a law that dates back to medieval Europe.

In the 21st century, though, the Texas Water Development Board reports that in every corner of the state, the Streamflow Index ranks from abnormally low to exceptionally low, the worst possible condition. Groundwater levels are also dropping fast. Climatologists are warning of another drought in 2013.

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