Texas water, energy forefront of issues discussed at Texas A&M conference
Writer: Blair Fannin, 979-845-2259, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – Experts at a conference addressingwaterand energy in Texas collectively agreed the state’swaterneeds will grow exponentially over the next decade, fueled by a “business-friendly” environment attracting more people to the Lone Star state.
But unsolved is how to fund the proposed $53.1 billion statewaterplan going before the Texas Legislature in January. This issue, along with education, will be on the forefront of issues debated among lawmakers in Austin, according to conference speakers.
“People wantwaterandwatersecurity, but they don’t want to pay for it,” Dr. Robert Mace, TexasWaterDevelopment Board deputy executive administrator told conference attendees.
The conference, “Growing Texas:Waterand Energy in Texas”, held at the College Station Hilton and Conference Center, featured experts from several Texas A&M University System agencies,including Texas A&M AgriLife Research, and university faculty in the areas of agriculture and engineering.
Dr. Mark Hussey, vice chancellor and dean for agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M University, told attendees thatwaterand energy are part of “grand challenges many individuals are talking about across the country and the world.”
A historic drought in 2011 caused $7.6 billion in Texas agriculture losses and stressedwatersupply systems statewide. Parts of Texas are still under drought and last year’s parched conditions statewide is “what keepswaterplanners up at night,” Mace said.
Mace said Texas’ projected population growth will lead to a shortfall of 8.3 million acre-feet ofwaterby 2060.
“All of these folks will want a glass ofwater,” he said.
Potential funding sources for the state’s overallwaterplan could come in the form of a tax,waterusage fees, sales of state bonds or other funding methods. State Rep. James Keffer, Texas House of Representatives energy resources committee chair, told attendees some conservatives will “not look ahead to the future” as the issue is debated and that other politics will weigh in on the state’swaterissues.
Nevertheless, Keffer said education andwaterare two top priorities among Texas legislators in the upcoming legislative session.
Meanwhile, efficient technologies, such as those in agricultural irrigation in the High Plains, will help temper demand, but won’t be the sole solution towaterefficiency.
Dr. Ari Michelsen, resident director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at El Paso, said agriculture is a big player inwateruse to produce crops, livestock and other commodities.
The value ofwaterto farmers to grow crops varies by commodity, he said, but ranges from $15 per acre-foot to $70 per acre-foot. Those prices vary as the value of crop prices and inflation fluctuate from year to year. Municipalities and others looking for new sources ofwatercould turn to farmers and agriculture as a whole in the future to buywaterand transfer into industrial or municipal use, he said.
On an economic scale, Michelsen said the cheapest and cleanest source ofwateris groundwater. Surfacewatercosts range from 50 cents to $1 per 1,000 gallons. Desalinatedwatercosts are approximately $1.60 per 1,000 gallons.
Michelsen said scientists with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists continue to look for more innovative efficiencies inwateruse as ongoing work is done in breeding new varieties and evaluating new irrigation technology.
While agriculture has identified several efficiencies in irrigation, Mace said research funding is needed inwaterconservation to close the gap in municipal residential use and develop innovativewaterfiltering technologies. This will help temper the length of time it takes to approve and build a new reservoir in Texas – 25 years or longer, he said.
Hussey said the College Station conference served as a hub for academic, industry, municipal utility and government officials to “come together as there is an interface betweenwaterand energy.”
Conference sponsors were the Texas A&M Energy Institute and the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. Corporate sponsors were ConocoPhillips, Texas A&M University System and Choice Partners.