Water Crisis - Trouble Ahead
(This CARD article ran in the Thursday, July 24 Wimberley View.)
Yes, there is trouble ahead my friend, right here in River City – or as we fondly know it, Wimberley, Woodcreek and western Hays County. The trouble is a coming shortage of water.
So water will be in the spotlight Sept. 11, when Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development (CARD) hosts Water Crisis: Time to Get Serious!, a free community meeting at the Wimberley Community Center.
Here in the Hill Country, water is lifeblood, not only for our bodies but for our community. The Blanco River, Cypress Creek and countless flowing springs are primary reasons a community started here in the late 1840s has flourished for more than 160 years. Water nourishes our wildlife, grasses and trees, supports our businesses and agriculture, provides recreation and attracts tourists who boost our economy. Water also makes our Hill Country a charming place to live.
But a look into the future offers an alarming picture. Central Texas is growing faster than almost any other region of the country. The net amount of water we have available to sustain all this growth is less than it was when a trading post and gristmill were started here before the Civil War. From those early days right up to the late 20th century, free-flowing springs fed by abundant groundwater were common. Many people still living here remember them clearly. Today the flows from the remaining natural springs are increasingly challenged by the need to pump more and more groundwater – water from under the ground surface – to meet the demands of human activity.
We have built reservoirs to collect the rainfall that runs off the land and we have drilled wells to get water from the aquifers, those large but not unlimited natural reservoirs underground. In past times of drought, we've counted on large rainfalls to eventually refill our lakes. (In our current drought cycle, we are still waiting.) Aquifers, such as our own Trinity Aquifer – the source of the water most of us here use in our homes everyday – require a lot more than a few big rains. The United States Geological Survey reports that only a small fraction of rainfall makes it into our reservoirs; about 70% of rainfall returns to the atmosphere as evaporation*. An estimated 3%-5% makes it into an aquifer. It can take decades, centuries or longer to recharge an aquifer, even without further draining.
We pump water from the reservoirs and the aquifers faster than rain can refill them. In northern Hays County many older water wells have gone dry and local lakes are at record low levels. Even if we should return to historically "normal" Hill Country rainfall – not at all certain – the days of plentiful, cheap water are past in Central Texas.
This is a clear warning of a looming crisis. Yet new people and new businesses keep coming – that's just part of growth – and they need and deserve high-quality water just like those of us already here.
In the news we've heard many ideas aired to try to cope with the water crisis. One current suggestion involves drilling into the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer some seventy miles east of Hays County and pumping groundwater - via a large pipeline to be built - to customers in Hays County and beyond. The initial cost to build this highly controversial system is over $300 million. The annual operating cost is $8 million. This would be very expensive water indeed for county tax-payers.
Here in western Hays County our Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District has set a groundwater pumping rate that over fifty years will lower the aquifer an average of approximately nineteen feet and in some locations over one hundred feet. This means our aquifer is being "mined". The water taken cannot be replaced because the rate of pumping far exceeds the rate of refilling. While this will produce more groundwater for immediate use, what are the long-term effects of this aquifer mining? When there is no longer enough groundwater to replenish them, wells will go dry, more springs will stop flowing and creeks and rivers will become dry beds except during heavy rains.
The scary forecast can be improved. Conservation of water can produce dramatic reductions in the demand for water. One example: Creating low-water lawns and gardens can save vast amounts of water. America's most water gulping "crop" is lawn grass. The Environmental Protection Agency says U.S. landscape irrigation uses nearly 9 billion gallons of water a day, about a third of all residential water use. Many water conserving homes in western Hays County use only 45 gallons per person per day versus 150 gallons per person per day in many cities with irrigated lawns.
Another example is rainwater collection, an old idea now very popular in the Hill Country for developing a secure drinking water supply. For about the cost of a well, a home can be self-sufficient for water, independent of the declining aquifer and enjoy water purer than any city's water.
These, and many other aspects of water use, including ideas from experts on how individuals can improve their usage of our most precious resource, will be discussed at the Water Crisis: Time to Get Serious! free community meeting, 6-9:30 p.m. Sept. 11. For more on the event, visit www.hayscard.org.
Keep up with meeting updates on this website at hayscard.org, and help us get the word out with our poster.
CARD Steering Committee