Our Critical Water Issues

Make no mistake about it. We are in a crisis here in Texas where water is concerned. Consider these facts: Our population is essentially going to double in the next half-century or so, and we have already given permission for more water to be withdrawn from many of our rivers than is actually in them … today.

Exacerbating this frightening circumstance are recent years of severe drought that may continue. We have traditionally considered the drought of the 1950s as the “drought of record,” meaning as bad as it can get, but that is an assumption we simply cannot afford to make. In the 1950s, we were essentially a rural state where everyone knew exactly what the lack of rainfall meant to our economy and quality of life. That drought spurred all modern water planning and infrastructure that has served us for the past half-century, but the reality is that we cannot simply build our way out of this problem. It now threatens our children’s future.

Because the landscape of Texas is more than 95 percent owned by private citizens, virtually all our watersheds, all our recharge zones, and all the countryside where the raindrops fall are on private property. We must find a way to keep our landowner stewards on the land and doing the right thing to ensure continued water for the rest of us.

We also waste too much water in Texas. The cities of San Antonio and El Paso have reduced their consumption of water by a full 40 percent per capita, and yet they have continued to grow. In other major Texas cities, water consumption per capita is still increasing, and in some cases, 25 to 30 percent of water supplies is lost simply through poorly maintained or aging water mains. Knowing that the easiest water for us to get for our future is the water we already have, we can get it simply by being more efficient in the way we manage and use it.

Water is essential for all of life. All plants and animals are dependent on water, more so than any other substance, and we have the capacity to exhaust our supplies. We must ensure the maintenance of “environmental flows” that keep the ecosystems of our rivers and streams and our bays and estuaries healthy. As we plan our water use, we must leave enough in the system for the environment because human use is only one part of the equation. Without water flowing down our rivers and streams and into our basins and aquifers, our ecosystem will collapse.

I grew up alongside a muddy creek on the Gulf Coast, and I spent every afternoon on the water in a boat my father and I built together. Later, I scheduled my life in the autumn to pursue the huge flocks of wild ducks and geese that arrived each year to spend the winter in Texas’ magnificent system of bays and estuaries. To preserve this heritage for generations to come, we must address the underlying water problems that threaten our state. So water is part of who I am, and I am committed to preserving this heritage for future generations, and to do so, we must address the overwhelming water problems facing our state.

Today, the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment is one of the leading academic institutions in the nation for research, education, stewardship, and conservation associated with our natural water systems.