As the historic drought continues, the need to develop a sensible regional water plan becomes ever more urgent. There has probably never been a more urgent need for a sustainable regional water plan in South Texas than now. With Bexar County‘s population growth of more than 23% over the last decade and Guadalupe County’s by nearly 50% over the same period, according to a recent report in the San Antonio Express-News, the future demand for water in the region will be the area’s greatest challenge. Failure to develop a comprehensive plan will not only challenge our current standard of living, our future economic development, and our ability to become a great international city, but it will affect our ability to even exist in the region.
Here are a few facts:
The current drought in Texas has pushed state agriculture to the limit. For example, cotton farmers in the state may have to abandon record acreage of the crop due to the lack of water[i],
slashing U.S. production.
- The economic development – more investment and more jobs – of the region is being threatened by our lack of water resources. Ironically, the development of the oil and gas reserves locked up in the Eagle Ford shale, which requires millions of gallons of water for each drilling operation – and there are hundreds of drilling operations – competes for this valuable resource against agriculture and an ever increasing population. Just meeting the needs of the hydraulic fracturing process to unlock the oil and gas reserves may cause increased water rationing and “widespread pasture losses, crop failures and shortages of water in rivers, reservoirs and wells,” according to the Express-News.
- We are already paying the price for not having an effective and fair regional water plan. Another Express-News article reports that as the Trinity Aquifer’s reserves shrink, local private
water utilities are paying to have water trucked in to supply customers in Kendall County. Local farmers and ranchers now compete with swimming pools and lawn care for the use of this limited resource.
With a population that has grown more than sevenfold since the drought of the 1950’s, as is the case in Kendall County, the San Antonio Metropolitan Statistical Area must balance local needs for water as a key component to economic vitality and continued growth against the water needs of outlying areas. The goal of a regional water plan must be to turn what have traditionally been competing interests into shared values.
The Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) is currently developing a grant application to obtain a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant for the region. If AACOG wins the grant, it will allow it to launch a planning process which brings together various public and private interests and stakeholders from across the eight county San Antonio Metropolitan
Statistical Area to consider a holistic approach – across traditional planning domains and
across each other’s special interest – to addressing the water scarcity problem. Instead of treating workforce and economic development, housing, transportation, land use, environmental issues, and other common themes as separate issues, as they are traditionally treated, this process seeks to integrate planning for these processes in a way that will leverage mutual benefit and support increased growth.
According to the HUD Sustainable Grant Application:
“The Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program supports metropolitan and multijurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce
development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of: (1) economic competitiveness and revitalization; (2) social equity, inclusion, and access to opportunity; (3) energy use and climate change; and (4) public health and environmental impact.”
During World War II, Winston Churchill said, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” The
challenges of developing a comprehensive water plan for South Texas are daunting. If we don’t plan for the future by considering all constraints, opportunities, and impacts on water
availability across the region and developing a holistic water program, we are planning to fail. Failure is not an option.
[i] “About 55 percent of the Texas cotton fields were in poor or very poor condition on June 26, matching the record low in 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said. More than 70 percent of the state was experiencing “exceptional” drought as of June 21, and non-irrigated crops in
the Panhandle and South Plains regions have all failed, a Texas A&M research unit said. … The drought in Texas, which accounted for 44 percent of the nation’s harvest last year, may accelerate a projected drop in production in the U.S., the world’s largest exporter, and revive prices. Only about a third of the acres in Texas are irrigated.”
Cotton Farmers Abandon Record Acres on Drought as Gap’s Costs Rise,”
Debarati Roy, Bloomberg – June 30, 2011; http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-30/texas-cotton-farmers-may-abandon-record-acres-because-of-drought.html