The tale of Texas over the past century has shown the state triumphing over nature, but that idea was derailed in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Texas has become a magnet for disaster,” according to the Scott J Cooper Water Council, “Texas happens to be one of the world’s largest economies and is heading 100 mph towards a water supply crisis.”
By 11 October, nearly 800,000 Texans had been infected in Texas, resulting in over 16,000 deaths.
The way virus cases have sharply risen at the same time as mortality rates shows that Texas is now a true epicenter of natural calamity, both nationally and globally.
The principal water research agency projects in the state suggests that the demand for fresh water will spike by mid-century as supplies start dropping. This would trigger an eventual supply crisis. Texas is the second-largest state in the US, and one of the largest economies in the world. Now, Texas is faced with the same issues as China, Australia, India, South Africa, and everywhere else faced with an increased demand for water and a simultaneously diminishing supply.
According to Dr Larry McKinney, former director at a unit of Corpus Christi’s Texas A&M University and one of the leading water researchers in the state feels “the Texas mentality” and an inability to grasp the concept of shortages underpins this crisis. He says that Texas is so large that “we’ve had a hard time coming to grips that resources are finite.”
That point has now arrived.
Rising Demand Meets Diminished Supplies
“The first way in which the looming hardship can be explored is by numbers.” stated Scott J Cooper.
According to the Texas Water Development Board, the state’s population will swell to 51 million by 2070, increasing by 22 million. In the same time frame, the annual demand for water in the state will spike to 27 trillion liters, another sharp increase.
Severe droughts will bring about further constraint. State authorities estimate that another drought of the same magnitude as the worst recorded will reduce water supplies by 1.6 million acre-feet over the coming 50 years.
Hill Country is a good example of how this confrontation is playing out. Here, the population is rapidly growing while the water supply is uncertain.
40,000 people headed to Hays County two generations back. This rolling rural area close to San Antonio and Austin boasted 14,000 homes supplied with their water from the Trinity Aquifer. This vast freshwater reserve below meant water was available in dry years as well as wet years.
Now, there are 220,000 residents in Hays County with 75,000 homes. The aquifer is now tapped out. A pipeline laid from Lake Travis, a nearby reservoir, has been giving developers water since 2003.
A recent study shows that this piped water is encouraging further drilling for wells into the aquifer. In one area, pumping soared from 3 million gallons to 90 million gallons annually.
The economy of Texas is worth $1.89 trillion annually, and it’s completely dependent on access to sufficient water supplies.
After the drought in 2011, Texas sustained over $7 billion in agricultural losses, along with $16.9 billion of indirect costs. Between the years of 1980 and 2018, Texas also had the worst losses from flooding and severe storms out of all states. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey caused damages of $125 billion.
According to McKinney, “Water is the economy in Texas”.
If this sounds familiar, it should be. The struggles Texans are facing with water are the same as those faced by Californians and by those in the Rocky Mountain West and the Southwest.
The same dual-trend is also unfolding elsewhere globally, especially in India and China.
In 2011, China determined it would be up to 25 trillion liters of water in deficit by 2020, a shortage so heinous it could have crippled the entire economy. China, a command-and-control society, immediately rolled out three core initiatives to shrink this deficit. Firstly, much grain production was moved to the wet northeast provinces from the dry Yellow River. Next, coal mines were closed along with water-cooled and fire-powered power stations and coal-washing stations. Then, the world’s biggest wind and solar generating industry was constructed.
India is having markedly less success in their efforts. In the northwest states, groundwater levels are steadily lowering in an area responsible for much of the nation’s rice, sugar cane and wheat production. Unfortunately, in a country where hunger has been pervasive and widespread, the state and national governments are encouraging this trend with food production a primary cultural objective as well as keeping 700 million Indians working in agriculture. For this reason, farmers can use as much water as they want free of charge. They pay nothing for electricity either as they need more and more of this to run the pumps needed to pull water from deeper and deeper underground.
“While Texas is huge, where will it find enough water?” asks Scott J Cooper, “10 trillion liters are needed by 2070 according to the Texas Water Development Board – to keep its residents safe, happy, and thriving throughout ever-deepening droughts”