By Jeremy B. Mazur
Texans are familiar with the saying that we know the value of water when the well runs dry. The common convenience of flowing taps may quickly become a dirty, desperate and miserable experience when water ceases to flow.
On Oct. 19, we were encouraged to “imagine a day without water.” The purpose of this day was to shed light on the value that water provides for all communities, and the need for further investment in safe and affordable water infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the data indicates that an imagined day without water may soon become a nightmare reality.
Texas is a drought-prone state. Just as 2023 has been a hot and dry year, we have been hit before by severe, persistent droughts that lasted for years on end.
The good news is that we have a plan to prepare ourselves for severe droughts. The State Water Plan describes the water supply projects and smart management strategies needed to deliver water to a growing, drought-prone state.
Just as the water plan offers a blueprint toward hydrological salvation, it offers a harrowing, data-driven description on what could happen if we’re not prepared for the next big drought. For starters, Texas faces a water supply deficit of 6.9 million acre feet — where the number of thirsty people will exceed available water supplies — if we don’t expand our water supply portfolio by 2070.
Failing to expand our water portfolio between now and 2070 could inflict $153 billion in GDP losses and 1.4 million jobs lost — a massive hit to the Texas economic miracle.
Beyond water supply needs, the aging, deteriorating condition of our water systems also threatens our water future. Again, the data tells a sobering story.
Antiquated systems leak enough water per year to fill a major reservoir the size of Lake Buchanan in the Hill Country or Possum Kingdom Lake in North Texas. On top of that, thousands of boil water notices are issued each year, oftentimes due to the poor condition of drinking water systems. Given enough time, dilapidated water systems can fail — as happened in Odessa and Zavalla last year — leaving communities without running water.
While we may easily imagine a day without water, Texans have the option next month to do something about it. If voters approve its creation in the November constitutional amendment election, the Texas Water Fund would be used for developing new water supplies and fixing failing water systems.
Approved by a bipartisan majority in the Texas Legislature earlier this year, the Texas Water Fund expands the state’s financial strategy toward helping communities avoid having to endure days without water.
The Legislature has also authorized a $1 billion deposit into this new fund, pending voter approval. This modest down payment represents a needed first step toward addressing Texas’ long-term water infrastructure challenges, and it sets our state on a smart financial path toward securing our water future.
As we’re asked to imagine a day without water, it’s worth remembering that the possibility of living without water is real for many communities in Texas. The proverbial well can run dry. On the upside, voters have the option of doing something about it this November.
Jeremy B. Mazur is a senior policy advisor for Texas 2036, a nonprofit public policy organization building long-term, data-driven strategies to secure Texas’ prosperity.