The Trinity River, Watering 1/2 the People of Texas

 

Reused Wastewater Key to Trinity Rivers Survival | The Texas Tribune

Reused Wastewater Key to Trinity Rivers Survival | The Texas Tribune.

“Every drop of water that’s being consumed in Houston has been through the wastewater treatment plants in Dallas and Fort Worth,” said Andy Sansom, director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.

With the drought and growing population, this practice should become more common.  When I lived in west Texas the wastewater was recycled for use on the golf course, parks, and sports fields.  That ought to be the norm – why are we using drinking water for grass?  But of course, that will be expensive to implement – it means new pipes, pumps, and infrastructure that won’t come cheap.  But then again, neither is water.

“The preliminary results are that the ecology of the Trinity is surprisingly good,” Clingenpeel said. A key reason for those results, he said, is that a large proportion of the river’s flow downstream is from treated wastewater, which is so clean that the basin now supports species such as darter fish that are sensitive to pollution and would not have survived in the river in the past. 

But there are dark clouds on the horizon, including those cast by an invasive species – the zebra mussel.

A growing concern for communities that rely on the Trinity’s waters is the recent discovery ofzebra mussels in the river in Denton County, prompting fears that the invasive species will spread downstream. In other parts of the state, zebra mussels have clogged pipes and restricted the flow of pumped water, prompting water providers to spend millions to combat the problem.

Another problem could be competition between Dallas and Houston for the Trinity’s water – leaving Galveston Bay “high and dry.”

“In peak drought periods, it would reduce the levels below the minimum levels necessary for ecosystem health,” said Luke Metzger, the group’s director. “I think that in general, we need to be exhausting our potential for conservation before we consider projects like this.” 

How can the needs of people be balanced against those of the ecosystems dependent upon the water?  And, is there a difference?  If we destroy the Bay’s ecosystem, won’t we be destroying our future?

Once Upon A River

A River No More | The Texas Observer.

Erik A. Ellison/ Wikimedia Commons
A branch of Lake Travis in 2011.

I have to post the whole thing – it made me want to cry.

A River No More

by Published on Monday, September 30, 2013, at 2:50 CST

Flowing rivers are the arteries of the vast Texas landscape. They connect the treeless sands of West Texas with the dark alluvial soils of the Gulf Coast. But the lack of rain has weakened the waterways that bind our state. The aridity that now chokes these rivers, from the Brazos to the San Saba, has set off a battle between rural Texas and the super-cities that now have the power. The cities are thirsty giants that never sleep, dominating our politics, our policy and now our water. They will not be denied. And even though there are very few actual river miles within these cities, the water winding through the long banks surely belongs to them.

In op-ed after op-ed, political leaders, business interests, policymakers and developers all point to the abundance of water held by agriculture. And so these farms and the rural lands of Texas will be sacrificed as the rains cease and the cities grow. It’s an easy answer to avoid the impending change and discomfort that should come with a dwindling water supply.

If you have watched the ongoing battle over the flows of the Colorado, you can see this dynamic in real time. The Brazos is the same, now under mandatory restrictions against upstream withdrawals for the benefit of a single industrial facility. The Colorado was historically a river. It begins on the Llano Estacado and runs more than 862 miles. The origins are not marked and appear to be no different than any other of the millions of acres in Texas. The beginnings of the Colorado are where few could ever see it. You couldn’t pinpoint it on a map, that place where the sparse rains begin to collect and channel what becomes the river.

The Colorado’s still on the map as a river but the long flow has been carved into a set of possessory fiefdoms of water storage, marinas, resorts and second homes. Horseshoe Bay to the Lost Pines Hyatt. The water of the Colorado has been stacked until it’s a set of chained reservoirs. Time and money have converted the riverbank to cities, malls, developments and some of the most scenic areas in Texas. But it’s a façade and always has been. The illusion is performed with dams and development. Underneath, this was a river; we just lost sight of it.

The many of us who are unwitting participants in this hydrologic demise can view a time lapse image from the rocky banks of Lake Travis. As the daily withdrawals of municipal intakes and the hot sun take hold, the flat surface of the water falls evenly. We know to the foot how much is lost every day. And as the water disappears, the islands emerge as though new lands have been created. But these islands are the old riverbanks that stood before the dams came. Even Lake Travis, the single biggest impoundment on the Colorado, has reassumed its serpentine shape. It’s a natural reminder that dam or no dam, this is a river.

We made a bet long ago that the rains would always come. So we failed to plan. Now the rains have ceased, and the demands are incalculable. The bet turned into a margin call.

The coastal farms and communities of the lower Colorado were the first to lose. Ironically the fathers of these farmers constituted the monolithic political power that enabled the original dams to be built. Over decades that power has waned to the point that it’s no longer viable. Once the dams that John Graves warned us about were built, the flow of the water would be controlled thereafter.

Now in a moment of desperation, the rich bays of coastal Texas are the next to pay. Shrimp, oysters, birds and redfish depend on the flow of fresh water to mix with the salt of the Gulf. That was the purpose and the effect of the long path of collected rains running from a silent spot on the Texas plains. Matagorda Bay thrived because the waters flowed. Without it, these creatures will be evanescent. And even though the farms and now the bays have been pushed out of the river’s path by the needs of a city, still the most Disney-like element of the Colorado remains untouched. Lake Austin remains full, gin clear and welcoming from the docks and front yards of the powerful—too many of whom are rarely there to see it.

This calls for a moment of thought. There is no leadership urging constraint. No call for slowed development or water-oriented growth planning. The wheel just spins faster. Every new development, every new apartment laid on top of bare Hill Country limestone drains a farm, a ranch, a bay and a life somewhere else. These places will slowly end before us because no longer does the water flow in what once was a river.

Missing Water in the West

The recession of the massive lake that straddles Nevada and Arizona is symbolic of a long-standing problem that just got a lot worse: The Colorado River’s record-low flows and the shrunken reservoirs of lakes Mead and Powell (pictured above) for the first time have triggered big cuts in the amount of water allowed to flow downstream.

via Feds Slash Colorado River Release to Historic Lows.

Nevada, Arizona, California, and Mexico depend on the Colorado River water to supply electricity to light the towns and run the air conditioners, and the water to green up the desert and grow crops.  And for the past 14 years, there is less water in the river than any time in the past 1,200 years.

Lake Powell, upstream on the river, is losing most of its water to drought.  Farther down the river, Lake Mead is being sucked dry by Las Vegas and agricultural use.  Over two year’s worth of water is “missing” – 16 million acre-feet.

The Colorado River Basin “is one of the most critical sources of water in the West,” Connor said in written comments submitted to a Senate subcommittee hearing in July. The river and its tributaries quench the thirsts of 40 million people and nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland, plus seven national wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas, and 11 national parks.

If it rains and snows in above normal amounts next year, the crisis might be delayed for a while.  Several years of above-average precipitation could help to refill the lakes.  But at this point, that appears unlikely.

By current river law, Lake Mead must deliver a certain amount of water downstream, but the lake is draining faster than its refilling. At some point, if the situation doesn’t improve, the fear is it may come to deciding this: Do we cut off water supply to Las Vegas to two million people because the reservoir has dropped too low? Or does someone else pay?

Because most of the water goes to agriculture, if the drought continues there will be hard choices.  Who will win?  Who will lose?  Will people still want to move there if water usage is restricted?  What new technologies will be developed to deal with this situation?  What are you doing to conserve our natural resources?

Running on Empty

via Draft Water Plan Says Texas “Will Not Have Enough” — Water Supply | The Texas Tribune.

“The primary message of the 2012 state water plan is a simple one,” the introduction states. “In serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, and its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises.”

As population rises, demand will increase, although the increases are predicted to be slower than growth.  The lower predictions result from a decrease in demand from agriculture – we won’t be growing as many crops.

“In Texas, temperatures are likely to rise; however, future precipitation trends are difficult to project. If temperatures rise and precipitation decreases, as projected by climate models, Texas would begin seeing droughts in the middle of the 21st century that are as bad or worse as those in the beginning or middle of the 20th century.”

How will Texas citizens’ cope with the declining water supply?  More reservoirs, transferring water from one basin to another, and auditing water loss from public utilities (broken lines, etc.).

Of course, conservation should be the number one topic that results from this study – doing more with less.  Do you really need a green yard full of St. Augustine grass?

 

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