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Major portions of four regions will face potentially serious water supply and resource challenges over the next 50 years. These areas include the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Corpus Christi in South Texas; the Houston-Galveston region in Southeast Texas; the San Antonio and Austin areas in South Central Texas; and the El Paso region in Far West Texas.(62)
In Southeast and South Central Texas, local governments have joined the Texas Water Development Board and other public entities to examine long-range water resource management strategies. These strategies include inter-basin water transfers, accomplished either through physical transfers or through market transfers of water from areas of surplus to areas of future water deficit. Known as the Trans-Texas Water Program, the study area is divided into three regions which account for about a third of the state's population and include the cities of Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Corpus Christi. Two major alternatives are currently under review: building additional water supplies for Houston and areas to the south, or transferring water or water rights from more inland locations to both Houston and other major demand centers such as Corpus Christi and San Antonio.
At present, the Trans-Texas Program is only an assessment and planning program, examining whether the current approach of increasing water supply by building dams and reservoirs is preferable to transferring water from one basin to another.
Texas currently spends about $1 billion a year of private, local, state and federal funds on new water treatment, sewage and drainage facilities.(63) Meeting future demand for water will require billions of dollars in federal, local and state funding for new water supply projects as well as for expansions of treatment, sewage and draining facilities.
Over the next 50 years, the Board estimates Texas will need $41 billion in funds for wastewater and water systems, reservoirs, conveyance, pipelines and flood control. An additional $700 million will be needed to provide these basic services to Texas residents living in colonias, unincorporated areas along the border that lack proper water and wastewater treatment.(64)
From 1978 to 1989, the federal portion of total state spending on water-related facilities declined from 40 percent to 17 percent.(65) As the federal government continues to cut back its funding for state water projects, Texans will increasingly bear these financing costs themselves. And these costs are climbing as more stringent environmental regulations take effect. These rising costs are particularly burdensome for small and rural systems. In 1985, there were 2,646 wastewater discharge permits from municipal sewage treatment plants. By 1994, that total had been reduced to 2,354 as many smaller systems began to consolidate with larger city systems.(66)
The effort to assure an adequate supply to meet future demand can involve varying water development strategies. These strategies can be divided roughly into two categories: supply-side alternatives, which rely on increasing the water supply, and demand-side alternatives, which focus on reducing demand. Supply-side alternatives include new reservoirs, expanded water reuse and inter-basin transfers. Demand-side strategies include drought management, water transfers from one category of use to another - such as irrigation to municipal - and conservation.
In the past, new reservoirs and other water supply projects were built to meet expected water needs. In 1913, Texas had only eight major reservoirs, with a capacity of about 359,000 acre-feet, the largest of which was Lake Medina. By 1930, that figure had risen to 32, with more than a million acre-feet of capacity. The damming of rivers and creation of new reservoirs continued, and by 1980 there were 168 major reservoirs.(67) Today, there are 191 major reservoirs, covering nearly 1.7 million acres, providing 37 million acre-feet of capacity and 11 million acre-feet of sustainable yield.
Past state water plans favored supply-side solutions. The 1969 Texas Water Plan advocated importing water from the Mississippi River to Northeast Texas and moving the water through a series of canals and aqueducts to the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas. Texas voters rejected an amendment to provide initial funding for the project, which would have required 67 dams. A similar plan to import water and build 27 new reservoirs was also voted down in 1974.(69) In 1981, Texas Speaker of the House Billy Clayton proposed a state Water Trust Fund, which would have set aside one-half of the state's budget surplus for future water projects. "Proposition Four" was defeated by voters. The 1984 Water Plan also called for the construction of 44 new reservoirs, although the Texas Water Development Board sought no bonding authority from the legislature and Texas voters for these water projects.
While the Texas Water Development Board continues to recommend construction of new reservoirs to meet long-term water needs, other supply and demand options are also being considered. The 1990 Water Plan calls for phased-in conservation methods to reduce demand by 3.5 million acre-feet as well as the development of 14 new surface water reservoirs, five salinity control projects, 29 major water conveyance piping systems and a tripling of water reuse and use of return flows to provide supplies. Both the 1984 and 1990 Water Plans also included specific recommendations relating to agricultural, municipal and industrial water conservation.(70)
The proposal to build more reservoirs is controversial. Opponents claim it is both environmentally destructive and not the most efficient way to meet demand. They argue, for example, that the construction of reservoirs harms animal habitat and destroys wetlands by reducing the amount of inundated lands.(71) This construction also penalizes downstream users because run-of-the-river flows are reduced, impacting water use. Also, wastewater discharges must meet more stringent permit standards when there is less water to dilute the discharge. While proponents recognize the need to mitigate environmental damage, they believe that some reservoirs are needed to meet the demands of a growing population. Both sides agree, however, that other "non-traditional" water development strategies are needed, given the scarcity of resources and increasing regulations to protect the environment. In essence, water resource planners are calling for a shift from water development to water management.
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