Water Scarcity in North Texas
North Texas’ water woes are well documented; from the “Red River Smackdown” war between Texas and Oklahoma over water rights in the Red River basin to our perennial lawn watering drought-time bans and twice weekly schedules. Texas is thirsty, and if it wants to keep growing at its prodigious rate, it needs to either conserve more water or find new sources of it—or perhaps both. The state's most recent water plan estimates it will lose 10 percent of its reserves over the next 50 years, a time when its population is projected to surge tremendously. Due to North Texas ‘populations sprint northward, it is estimated that by 2060, the population will have grown to more than 13 million and water demands in the area will have increased by 86 percent. Even despite our recent spring rainfall, North Texas will face an estimated supply shortfall of 456 billion gallons of water by 2070.
The 16-county North Texas region is expected to grow by 91 percent over the next 50 years, and North Texas depends on surface water resources for more than 90 percent of its water supply. The Texas Water Council reports that twice-weekly watering will extend the water supply, but may not be adequate for the explosive growth anticipated. Much more is needed on the supply side, such as reservoirs, as well as market-based solutions.
Three North Texas water districts combined serving almost all of the population have banned together to educate and encourage water conservation via the ubiquitous Water is Awesome Campaign which is in full speed this time of year. These districts, Dallas Water Utilities, Tarrant Regional Water District and the North Texas Municipal Water District not only provide water, but they are also stewards of our water scarcity issues and challenges and the future that climate change promises.
Here’s what our North Texas water management
and water utility providers are doing:
City of Dallas Water Utilities
North Central Texas is home to approximately 7.5 million people; the city of Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) provides safe drinking water to approximately 2.5 million of those people in Dallas and 23 surrounding cities.
The true scarcity of water is the availability of fresh water. Approximately, only 2.5 percent of the Earth’s water is fresh, and most is not in a usable form (ice, clouds, etc.). Water scarcity/availability is not a new issue and may not necessarily be solved economically. Population growth increases water demand and places additional stress on the local supply. Projected temperature increases due to climate change also pose additional challenges to the water supply via increased in evaporation.
The city of Dallas has faced water availability challenges throughout its history. Droughts in 1909, 1912 and the 1950s prompted the city to expand its water supplies and plan for a 50-year horizon of water scarcity/availability in several ways. First, with long-range planning. By identifying future demands, the utility identifies water management strategies to meet water needs. Secondly, by implementing water management strategies that include water conservation. Dallas’ water conservation program targets business and residential customers. The program includes public education, rebates and giveaways, leak detection, main break repairs, increasing block rate structure and outdoor watering restrictions.
The city’s water conservation efforts have decreased Dallas’ per capita demand by approximately 32 percent over the past 20-years. Another water management strategy currently practiced is water reuse, which will be expanding to representing 36 percent of Dallas’ planned future supplies.
Although water management strategies, including water conservation, extend Dallas’ current water supply, these alone are ot enough to meet all projected future demands. The city will continue to research efforts to meet the needs of DWU customers; be good steward of this precious resource; and provide safe drinking water; a service vital to the health and safety of their customers. For more information visit DallasCityHall.com/departments/water-utilities.
Tarrant Strategies for Future Water Scarcity Issues
The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) mission is to deliver a reliable, resilient supply of water to the public at the lowest cost and highest quality possible. From a system of lakes through huge pipelines, raw water is provided to more than 30 wholesale customers across 11 North Texas counties. This water is treated to drinking water standards and delivered to almost 2.5 million residents, schools and businesses. According to state water planning, TRWD’s population served is expected to almost double by the year 2070. Their long-range 50-year water supply plan mixes current strategies with innovative, forward-thinking methods to meet the needs of rapid growth impacted by potential water scarcity issues.
North Texas has a semi-arid climate and is prone to drought conditions. Relying on surface water lakes exposes supplies to unpreventable water loss through evaporation that can be significant during periods of extended hot temperatures coupled with a lack of rainfall. TRWD’s George W. Shannon Wetlands Water Reuse Project reliably supplies water during dry periods. Near Richland-Chambers Reservoir, the wetlands comprise an indirect water reuse supply strategy to help extend current resources by filtering up to 95 million gallons of water a day from the Trinity River. Plans are underway to add another wetlands facility at nearby Cedar Creek Reservoir over the next 10 years that will provide an additional 28 billion gallons of water per year when fully operational.
TRWD is also looking into the feasibility of an aquifer storage and recovery project that can potentially store millions of gallons of water underground. In years with additional supply, water could be pumped underground and used later during drought and times of summer peak demands. A pilot project is planned in Tarrant County that if successful, could be the start of multiple well sites throughout the regional water supply system.
TRWD is also working with regional partners to advance the first option of new supply: water conservation. Using water we have today more efficiently helps extend our existing supplies, delays expensive new projects, reduces peak demands and is the least expensive water supply strategy available overall. Collaboration with other wholesale water providers city of Dallas Water Utilities and North Texas Municipal Water District has expanded the reach of the regional public education awareness campaign, “Water is Awesome. Use it. Enjoy it. Just don’t waste it.” At WaterIsAwesome.com, there is an opportunity to sign up for free weekly watering advice. do-it-yourself brochures and videos related to water-efficient landscaping, easy sprinkler system fixes and building a rain barrel. TRWD supports local conservation efforts at SaveTarrantWater.com with online videos, virtual classes, free sprinkler checks and more.
Over the last 15 years, water conservation has had a tremendous impact on reducing water use and water waste. But because of significant population growth expected over the next 50 years and the potential for water scarcity issues, planning for additional water supply projects must occur now for the water to be available when needed. TRWD will continue to help meet the growing water demands of the region through a combination of collaboration, water conservation, traditional strategies and innovative projects. For more information visit TRWD.com.
Improving Water Delivery with Lower Environmental Stress
The North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) has been providing wholesale water services to communities in North Texas since 1956 with the vision of "Regional Service through Unity: meeting our region’s needs today and tomorrow." NTMWD now serves more than 1.8 million people that live in 80 communities across 10 counties. The service area covers 2,200 square miles and includes some of the fastest-growing cities in North Texas.
NTMWD uses a comprehensive strategy of water conservation, water reuse and new water supplies to ensure communities have enough water now and in the future. Water conservation and reuse will provide for nearly 30 percent of the region’s future supplies, and NTMWD is committed to local and regional water conservation awareness. They support the regional Water is Awesome campaign with two other major water providers, as well as the conservation efforts of member and customer cities, and manage a local awareness campaign, Know More. Water Less.
During the hot Texas summer, up to 60 percent of water used by some homeowners is for landscaping. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that as much as 50 percent of the water used outdoors is wasted from inefficient watering methods and systems. To reduce outdoor water waste, NTMWD collaborated with Texas A&M AgriLife to create the Water My Yard tool that provides free, customized lawn watering advice based on research and local meteorological data collected by 27 weather stations. This program expanded and is now offered across the state. Homeowners can learn how to have a healthy lawn and save water at WaterMyYard.org or by downloading the app.
Another strategy to extend existing water supplies is increasing water reuse capabilities at the East Fork Water Reuse Project. This 1,840-acre constructed wetland is one of the largest manmade wetlands that diverts and captures treated wastewater effluent flows from the east fork of the Trinity River. Sediment basins, sunlight, millions of native aquatic plants and microorganisms work together to naturally treat the water. This allows the district to reuse up to 90 million gallons per day that can then travel through a 44-mile long pipeline to Lavon Lake, the primary reservoir. See this project firsthand at the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center (WetlandCenter.com).
To expand the system and increase available supplies, NTMWD is a building the first major reservoir in Texas in 30 years: Bois d’Arc Lake. Located in Fannin County, Bois d’Arc Lake will help meet the District’s water needs through 2040. As part of building the lake, environmental enhancements are being made to more than 17,000 acres nearby, including the creation of new wetlands, planting of about 5 million trees and making improvements to more than 70 miles of streams (BoisdArcLake.org).
NTMWD continues to make other critical investments to water treatment facilities, pipelines and wastewater infrastructure. With population expected to double in the next 50 years, innovations are constantly being explored that improve systems and lesson stress on the environment while minimizing costs. For more information visit NTMWD.com.