Water Crisis - The Cost of Water
(This CARD article ran in the Thursday, August 7 Wimberley View.)
Here's the credit card TV commercial we'd like to see:
Groceries for a day: $15
Wi-Fi service for a month: $40
Cable TV for a year: $800
Clean water whenever you need it: Priceless!
Water is one of those rare commodities worth any price - if you don't have it. Millions of desperate people around the world can testify to that.
After air, there's probably no better value-for-price bargain than water, the value being our very lives. If we live where there is a public water supply, the treated water piped into our homes is so inexpensive that many of us can afford to use thousands of gallons to irrigate our lawns, wash our cars, fill swimming pools, clean our dishes and clothes - and our bodies - as often as we like.
Granted, some of us served by local private water suppliers are reading this and saying "You should see my bill, it doesn't look so cheap." Some local prices are high compared to other water suppliers, but most people can still afford plentiful water.
Affordable water has always seemed like a birthright, a given, a forever thing. It's only lately that many of us are beginning to realize that our access to plentiful and affordable water could be threatened. Not today, and probably not tomorrow, but someday in the very foreseeable future. Our children's future.
Unfortunately, the rapid growth that is bringing prosperity to many aspects of Central Texas life is also bringing a far greater demand for water than local resources can supply. New businesses and people want their share of the water, and if there isn't enough water to share, the cost of the available water goes up, or considerable money must be spent to acquire other water.
This is now driving a search for new water supplies. One "at-home" option already approved is to increase overall pumping from our aquifer - the Trinity aquifer which is under western Hays County - by almost 100%.
If this continues, it will result in a steady decline in the water level of our aquifer. The aquifer is a vast resource, but not unlimited. The aquifer will take far longer (decades? centuries?) to replenish, even if by a miracle rainfall levels increase greatly over the 32 inches per year we once considered normal. (Only an estimated 3%-5% of rainfall reaches the aquifer.)
The aquifer should be a renewable resource, but it can never renew if such depletion continues. It's like killing the goose that lays golden eggs to get a single dinner. Ultimately the aquifer level decline will dry up local private wells and stop the groundwater flow from springs into our creeks and rivers and into our home water pipes.
Another option proposed is to import groundwater from the distant Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer east of IH 35 near Bastrop. The cities of San Marcos, Kyle, and Buda have already committed to a large pipeline from a well field about 40 miles away. The cost of the first phase of this project will be $110 million. Local water rates are expected to rise significantly to support this project.
Consultants are also investigating the feasibility of building a series of pipelines from near Gonzales to transport groundwater to Blanco County and customers in between. The cost of this system is not yet available.
Hays County has paid a private water marketer, Forestar Real Estate, $1,000,000 in the 2013/14 fiscal year, and will pay $500,000 in future years, to reserve up to 14.6 billion gallons of groundwater per year pumped from the Carrizo -Wilcox aquifer. The cost to build the 30" pipeline would be about $300 million, with annual operating expenses of $8 million, all to be paid by rate payers.
Welcome, but also almost overlooked, are recent local government efforts to expand residential rainwater collection. Unfortunately, due to antiquated rules, rainwater in public buildings cannot be used for drinking or bathing, limiting the amount of collection occurring community wide. Rainwater collection cannot solve the crisis, but regulations that enable collection and human use for public buildings could greatly alleviate water demands.
As the near future unfolds, we - Hays County residents and area officials - must do serious and more practical planning to solve our looming water crisis. If not, the price we pay for water will continue to rise rapidly as water becomes more difficult to find, acquire and bring home.
Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development believes the best way to deal with the "future" Water Crisis is to recognize that it has already begun, and to work together to understand and manage it. CARD invites you to join us to learn about and discuss central Texas water issues at a free community meeting, Water Crisis: Time to Get Serious! 6-9:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 11 at the Wimberley Community Center
Keep up with meeting updates on this website (hayscard.org), and help us get the word out with our poster.
CARD Steering Committee