Texans could save 500 billion gallons of water by 2020 if strategies to conserve water in agriculture, landscaping and energy production are implemented, according to a new report released by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center.
All of that water could meet municipal water needs for 9 million Texans. However, the state has more than 26 million residents.
But according to Brownsville field organizer for Environment Texas Research and Policy Center Ben Hellerstein, those 9 million Texans equate to 150 percent of the growth in demand for water from 2010 to 2020 as identified by the Texas Water Development Board.
The report recommends water savings by improving irrigation practices in agriculture, increasing use of drought-tolerant landscaping, requiring use of brackish or recycled water in fracking, repairing leaking municipal water mains, and increasing use of renewable energy and energy efficiency.
“In every sector of water use, new technologies and better management practices can enable us to get more out of a gallon of water,” Hellerstein said. “We can’t control when it rains, but we can control how we use water.”
The report also claims to calculate the amount of water implementing those strategies would require.
H Implementing more efficient agricultural irrigation technologies and management practices could reduce water withdrawals by 400 billion gallons per year by 2020 and meet the water needs of 7 million Texans.
H Increasing the use of drought-tolerant plants in landscaping could reduce withdrawals by 14 billion gallons by 2020, or as much as 260,000 Texans would use in a year.
H Detecting and repairing municipal water main leaks could save 20 billion gallons annually.
H Increasing deployment of energy technologies that require little or no water could reduce the amount of water consumed by electricity generation by 43 billion gallons per year in 2020, or enough for all the residents of Fort Worth.
But water conservation is not a new idea and two major Texas cities have already made strides, Hellerstein said.
“The city of San Antonio has grown 65 percent while using the same amount of water thanks to education programs and rebates for efficient toilets and drought-tolerant landscaping,” he said. “Using electronic leak detection equipment, the city of Arlington has identified leaks in broken water mains equal to 5 percent of the water flowing through its system.”
Hellerstein said Texas Gov. Rick Perry should set aside $1 billion from the rainy day fund for water conservation. There is $2 billion in the fund, he said.
“Environment Texas Research and Policy Center called on the state to set aside at least half of any water funding for conservation, reuse, repairs to leaking water mains, and to purchase water rights to protect flows in our rivers for wildlife and recreation,” Hellerstein said.
Executive Director of Healthy Communities of Brownsville Rose Timmer said while lower Rio Grande Valley residents are used to water — they need to remember to conserve.
“Because of our surrounding water resources — the Gulf, the resacas and the Rio Grande — it’s hard to imagine that we are having a drought,” she said. “But we are in as serious drought, and we need to address the issue of how to conserve our water.”
Both Greg Vail, vice president of the Rio Grande Delta Chapter of the Audubon Society, and Jude Benavides, associate professor of hydrology at the University of Texas at Brownsville, said the report’s recommendations were a step in the right direction.