Texas Currents Fall 2015

October 21, 2015

North Texas Water Plan Heavy on Reservoirs, Light on Conservation

State law divides Texas into 16 water planning regions. Each region must present an updated plan for meeting future needs every five years. Region C covers the 16-county Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and includes some of the nation’s fastest growing suburbs. Region C’s proposed update was recently open for public comment.

In August, Clean Water Fund submitted comments on the Water Plan which faulted it for prioritizing expensive new reservoirs over conservation.

Dallas and Fort Worth have made progress in lowering per capita gallons of consumption (GPCD) through toilet rebate programs and the “Lawn Whisperer” campaign, which offers tips on more efficient lawn watering. However, the GPCD for most cities in Region C remains well above the state average, and few cities have programs in place to lower consumption. Fewer than half of Region C communities limit lawn watering, even during drought. Less than 40% have tiered rate structures to promote conservation and only 25% punish water waste. Read more

Austin Goes Big On Solar

In two landmark votes this October, the Austin City Council moved to add 450 megawatts of energy from new West Texas solar farms by the end of 2016. This is on top of a separate 150 MW contract signed last year. The council also voted to bring an additional 150 MWs online by the end of 2019, either through another contract or in a solar farm that the city will build and operate on its own.

It adds up to 750 MWs of clean, affordable, water-saving solar energy for Austin, a milestone that the city had not planned to reach before 2025. The move comes early because bids for the solar power came in at record low prices.  

The low prices are largely due to the Federal Investment Tax Credit, which is set to drop from 30% to 10% at the end of 2016. Solar projects must be on line before January 2017 to qualify for the credit. Clean Water Action and allies urged the city to act now to assure that the projects can be completed before the tax credit is reduced.  Read More

The City as a Sponge

Imagine a city built to channel stormwater into underground cisterns for later use as a water supply. Imagine streets, driveways, and parking lots made of porous surfaces that allow water to percolate slowly into the ground rather than rush into nearby creeks and contribute to flooding and erosion. Imagine air conditioner condensate from highrises used to flush toilets. And imagine every new home decked out with plumbing that sends laundry and shower water (greywater) to the roots of trees rather than down the drain. Read more

Big Coal Makes a Big Investment in Solar

In a decision that marks a new day for solar energy in Texas, Luminant has signed an agreement with SunEdison to build a 115 MW solar farm in West Texas. Luminant is one of the biggest electrical providers in the state. It produces nearly 70% of its energy from coal plants, including East Texas lignite plants that are among the dirtiest in the nation. Luminant attributes the purchase to economic reasons alone, not to any environmental considerations.  Read more

San Antonio Water Grab

The City of San Antonio, renowned for its water conservation programs, has taken a step backward with its plan to pipe water in from Burleson County. The Spanish company Abengoa would build a 142 mile long pipeline for this purpose, in a project dubbed Vista Ridge.

In response to limits on how much water it could pump from the Edwards Aquifer, San Antonio developed some of the best conservation programs in the nation. It doubled in population over 25 years while keeping overall water use constant. Consumption dropped to less than 130 gallons per person per day, without compromising quality of life or economic growth. These programs saved money by reducing the need for new infrastructure; as the Chief Financial Officer of the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) put it, “Water saved is money earned.”  Read more

Water Utility, Environmentalists Find Common Ground

In a move supported by Clean Water Action, the Austin Water Utility (AWU) has proposed making once-a-week lawn watering restrictions permanent. Austin has limited watering to once a week since September 2012, and since then has saved more water due to these restrictions than Austin uses in a typical year.

The City Manager has the discretion to lift restrictions if area reservoirs reach a certain level. But, maintaining the current restrictions will reinforce the message that water needs to be used carefully going forward. Experts predict a drier climate for Central Texas, punctuated by occasional periods of heavy rainfall. Consistent with this model, the heavy rains of late spring and early summer were followed by a 51-day “flash drought” with no rainfall at all. Much of Texas has now slipped back into some level of drought. Read more