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In contrast to surface water, Texas law allows property owners an absolute "right of capture" to the groundwater under their property. Any property owner may pump as much water as needed, generally without incurring any responsibility if other property owners are affected.
The law makes only one exception to this right of capture: when groundwater flows in a well-defined channel and thus constitutes an underground river it becomes state property, just as if it were surface water.(20) In 1992, the former Texas Water Commission declared the southern Edwards Aquifer - which sits below San Antonio and is the city's only current source of water - an underground stream, and developed a management plan that included limits on pumping. However, a State District Court subsequently ruled against the legality of the Texas Water Commission decision. No other underground water source has been designated as an underground river.
Because the state is charged with protecting groundwater quality, however, some controls have been established. In critical areas of groundwater depletion such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the High Plains and the Edwards Aquifer in the San Antonio area, the legislature has established local management authorities, which can manage groundwater withdrawals through a permitting system. The legislature can also declare an area "critical" and set up a more restrictive management structure, if either subsidence problems or the lack of water are threatening the viability of the area.
Critics of the state's groundwater laws have long argued that the right of capture, even with some controls, leads to overpumping of the state's natural resources and doesn't properly protect the water rights of others using both surface and groundwater. However, both the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Legislature have continued to treat groundwater as a basic property right, without consideration of third party impacts to others.(24)
|INDUSTRIAL WATER USE|
|Water use within the industrial sectors in Texas is projected to climb over the next 30 years, as it has in the recent past. Between 1986 and 1990, for example, water use for manufacturing rose 15 percent, from about 1.4 million acre-feet to 1.6 million acre-feet. This increase was due primarily to the resurgence of the petro-chemical industry.(21) In 1990, five industrial sectors accounted for more than 90 percent of the industrial sector's use of 1.6 million acre-feet of surface water and groundwater. These five sectors are: chemical and allied products, petro-chemical products, pulp and paper products, primary metals and food. In fact, just 20 companies accounted for more than half the water used in manufacturing in 1990.(22)
At the same time, however, the use of water conservation practices has increased within Texas' industrial sector since the early 1980s. For example, the use of saline water or treated wastewater in cooling processes, or the substitution of electric heat for steam or hot water could potentially save industries and the state water. Industries that use a large amount of process water, such as the paper and pulp and the semiconductor industries - have enormous potential to reduce their water use.(23)
|RESIDENTIAL WATER USE|
Municipal water use in Texas towns and cities averages 167 gallons per day per person. Of this total, a significant portion is lost in transmission and distribution. A recent study by the Texas Water Development Board found that Texas water utilities cannot account for 15 to 20 percent of the water they treat and distribute.(26) Most of this loss is due to leaky distribution systems.
About a quarter of all municipal water use is due to the water used on landscapes during the spring and summer.(27)
In the typical home, about 50 percent of all water is used in the bathroom. Similarly, in schools and public buildings, toilet flushing is the predominant water use.(28) In 1991, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring that - for all new fixtures - only water-conserving plumbing fixtures such as 1.6-gallons-per-flush toilets and 2.75-gallons-per-minute shower heads be used in Texas beginning in 1992.(29) The Texas Water Development Board estimates that if all homes and public buildings used these new water-efficient toilets, which use 1.6 gallons of water per flush instead of the more conventional 3.5 to 8 gallons, Texas would save about 200 million gallons of water each day. This could reduce the need to build additional water and wastewater treatment plants by 15 percent, saving some $3.5 billion dollars over the next 50 years.(30) The TWDB also estimates that the average family of four could save $627 annually by installing water-efficient fixtures.(31)
In Texas, continued availability of water is threatened by overuse of groundwater and surface water, by future development, and by the competing interests of agricultural, municipal and industrial users. Added to these human needs are the needs of the environment. Preservation of fish and wildlife habitat, support of aquatic life in rivers and streams and the need for an inflow of fresh water into the state's vast network of bays and estuaries all demand significant amounts of surface water.
For these reasons, a variety of water districts and authorities as well as several state agencies have been involved in state water use planning in Texas. At the state government level, Texas has moved from three state agencies which dealt with water issues in 1957, to a single agency in the late 1970s, to the current structure of two state agencies, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and the Texas Water Development Board.(25)
The Texas Water Development Board is charged with developing a state water plan - a new one is required at least once every six years - to ensure that "sufficient water will be available at a reasonable cost to further the economic development of the entire state."(32) The first was developed in 1967. This plan, called Water for Texas, is updated every two years and estimates the supply and demands for water for the next generation and projects future facility needs. In order to meet these needs, the Texas Water Development Board also administers state and federal funds to build water supply and wastewater treatment facilities.
The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, on the other hand, issues water rights permits and attempts to balance economic and environmental needs by considering the effects of consumptive water use on various in-stream and estuarine habitats and measuring water quality for human consumption. Also, by law, the Commission maintains the state's Water Quality Management Plan.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department participates in this permit process by automatically reviewing water rights permits and recommending whatever changes in permits it deems necessary to protect aquatic habitat and wildlife, be it natural areas such as state parks or wetlands, endangered and threatened species, the aquatic ecosystems of streams or the estuaries. If the agency's concerns are not met, it may request that the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission hold a public hearing on the water right application.
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