What Does the Drought Mean for the Texas Miracle?

As much as anything, the economic boom in Texas depends on water. So what will industry do as the state gets drier? The Texas Tribune's Kate Galbraith explains.
Tue June 19, 2012 8:17 pm
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The drought has left Texas with empty reservoirs, parched livestock, and angry rice farmers. Kate Galbraith, the Texas Tribune’s energy and environment reporter, has trekked across the state to report on every angle of the water issue and the number of words she has written on the topic is truly staggering. Earlier this month, she penned a  series on Texas’s water woes and what is being done to address the issues for the Tribune, and for the July issue of TEXAS MONTHLY, Galbraith  wrote a piece on how the state’s industry—from refineries to power plants—will continue to thrive in this increasingly dry landscape. She warns that if they can’t cope, “the Texas Miracle might disappear in a cloud of dust.”

Texas, Galbraith writes, has grown into “the nation’s economic juggernaut” over the last few decades:

But that success has bred its own challenges, in the form of a booming population and a booming economy that put tremendous demands on our water supplies. If the next one hundred years are going to be as successful as the past one hundred, Texas will have to figure out how to deal with a state that’s getting bigger, hotter, and drier all at once.

The TM Daily Post caught up with Kate to ask her a few questions about her reporting on this increasingly important subject:

In your TEXAS MONTHLY story you write that several other cities in Texas are considering following El Paso’s lead and building desalination plants, which is an expensive and energy-intensive way to get water. But, despite these drawbacks, is desalination one of the state’s best hopes for addressing its water problems?
Actually desalination has already taken off in a surprising number of places in Texas. The Texas Water Development Board says there are 44 public water systems, mostly small, that use the technology. All are for brackish groundwater, of course; we’re not yet at the stage of desalinating seawater on a grand scale here. San Antonio is building a big desal system, and Odessa is thinking about one. (You can read more about this here.) But as promising as desal is, it’s expensive—especially when dealing with seawater—and it’s definitely not the only solution. Environmentalists say conservation and reuse of water should come first.

What lessons can the rest of the state learn from El Paso cutting back on its water consumption at a time when the city’s population ballooned?
El Paso is an interesting case. It hasn’t had the luxury of waffling on conservation because it’s so dry there–ten inches of rain a year. So, yes, they have permanent water restrictions and a significant water reuse program that the rest of the state can definitely learn from, as well as the desal plant. To my mind the story of El Paso is one of hope-–we can beat the water problem if we set our minds to it, and if we’re ready to spend some money. Though interestingly enough-–and I don’t think I mentioned this in the piece-–El Paso has extremely low water rates for a big Texas city. I’m still trying to work out exactly why that is, but the restrictions have got to be a key part of it, because the less water you use on a regular basis, the less money you’ve got to pour into new infrastructure projects. And if you look around the city, it’s a lot of xeriscaped yards, except for some of the rich areas. Other parts of Texas can do that too.

According to your story, the average temperature in Texas jumped 5.2 degrees last year. Is this the largest jump on record?
Well last summer smashed the prior Texas record, being more than five degrees

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