The thirsty road ahead: Drought may force the state to take tougher measures

Nov 10, 2011 | The Economist | Related Press

Water in Texas
The thirsty road ahead
Drought may force the state to take tougher measures

Nov 12th 2011 | AUSTIN | from the print edition

THIS year Texas had the hottest summer ever recorded in any state. In September wildfires swept through the town of Bastrop, outside Austin, destroying more than 1,000 homes. Thousands of cattle have been sold. The town of Big Spring, up the road from the oil hub of Midland, is planning to recycle wastewater for drinking; two of the reservoirs that supply the city are almost empty. The severe drought that has parched most of the state this year shows no signs of abating. The state climatologist reckons that it could last for the rest of the decade.

But the most sobering fact may be that Texas’s water woes are structural. A growing population needs more water. As it stands, the state needs about 18m acre-feet of water a year, according to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). By 2060 demand is projected to rise to 22m acre-feet a year. The available supply is expected to decline from 17m acre-feet to about 15.3m, as some aquifers are being depleted and areas of the state will come under new regulations. The TWDB forecasts a total statewide shortfall of 8.3m acre-feet by 2060, because the regions that have enough water cannot simply pipe it to the driest places. If nothing is done, it warns, the economic losses could reach $115.7 billion a year by 2060.

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