One issue regarding climate change that has sparked little discussion is its impact on fresh water supplies in the west. California has been going through one of its worst droughts on record, while Texas recently recovered, for the time being, from its worst one-year droughts on record. However, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has at least opened some eyes to the water woes that could be ahead of us if necessary action is not taken.
In Texas, Wichita Falls saw its water supply dip to below 10% forcing the city to take action in order to provide its citizens water security for the future. They built the second water reuse facility in the state (Big Spring, TX being the first) and also funded weather modification to help increase the supply of Lake Arrowhead. Fortunately, in May of 2015, a series of heavy rain events led to Lake Arrowhead filling up. As Texas witnessed its wettest month on record, many of the Lakes and Reservoirs that supply its municipalities filled up. With that said, several lakes in West Texas were not so lucky. Lake Ivie, which supports the cities of San Angelo, Midland and Abilene, received very little runoff and is expected to go dry by the end of January, 2017. The Twin Buttes Reservoir and O.C. Fisher Lake in San Angelo remain at 11% and 16%, respectively. That is only 37,000 acre-feet of water, or a two-year supply for the city of San Angelo before accounting for evaporation, which actually occurs at a faster rate than the city of San Angelo can consume.
With the struggles of the water supply in Texas, this had led to many political developments across the state. The state funded SWIFT, the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas through the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). This funding acts like a mortgage, although the funding must go through an application process and be included in the Texas State Water Plan. With $2 billion available, there is still not enough to go around. Additionally, there are a lot of arguments over who should receive the money. Should the state fund rural areas where farming and ranching are extremely important or the urban areas who have high demand as cities continue to grow, especially along the I-35 corridor? The TWDB tries to stay objective, but when it comes to voting in the Texas House/Senate, the folks along the I-35 corridor usually get the benefit of the doubt, leaving municipalities like San Angelo to find their own funding for their projects.
With the surface water supply turning out to no longer be a reliable source of water, projects such as Water Reuse, Desalination of Brackish groundwater and weather modification will require funding in the future. Furthermore, the infrastructure continues to fail and must be refurbished if cities in the west want to avoid what is going on in Flint. The city of San Angelo is trying to stay ahead of the curve by increasing water rates by over 50% in the next 5 years. However, the reaction from the citizens has been strongly negative. Without the increase in water rates, the city of San Angelo would lose its ability to fund large projects that could supply water to its citizens in the long term. Additionally, the thought of “toilet-to-tap” water has also not been received well. Despite other areas across Texas and California already adopting this, as well as the International Space Station, those who are not used to this thought are having a hard time accepting the future and forgetting the past. All water has been reused at one point or another, and with a $136 million water reuse plant, the water would actually be cleaner than anything San Angelo has provided to its citizens in the past. Interestingly enough, San Angelo has just finished building a pipeline from the Hickory Aquifer in central Texas which is known to have radioactive levels higher than the EPA requirements. However, citizens were more accepting to this project then the proposed water reuse plant.
San Angelo, as well as towns all across West Texas, and farther west for that matter, have a lot to worry about in the coming years, especially if a La Nina pattern develops next winter. The rate at which we use water cannot be sustained by surface and/or groundwater which will lead to municipalities having to build water reuse plants and/or desalination plants. Unfortunately, this may come with a negative public perception but when the faucet runs dry, many will be complaining about the lack of planning from the water utilities departments that are in a bind. In order for these utilities to not be in a bind, the price of water must go up and long term planning must be taking place. Therefore, I believe it is important for the issue of the impacts climate change has on the worlds fresh water supply to be discussed. The Weather Social provides a great platform for this and hopefully we can create some discussion as to how to increase awareness on water conservation and why this would be needed.