Texas Water Development Board

Candelario Ramirez checks a net on Buddy Treybig's shrimp boat in Matagorda Bay. The bay's shrimp stock depends on consistent freshwater inflows form the Colorado River. 

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This is the third editorial in a series covering the lasting impact and future outlook of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT, which was established in a statewide referendum on Nov. 5. We supported the creation of the fund and the initial $2 billion investment that went into it, but recognize that the fight to preserve Texas’ supply of fresh water is far from over. Be sure to check out the first and second editorials as well.

Matagorda Bay is in a tough spot. The bay, which is the second-largest estuary on the Texas Gulf Coast, sits at the mouth of the Colorado River, and its ecosystem depends on the river’s consistent delivery of fresh water. That water supports its populations of fish, shellfish, waterfowl and other marine life. Those populations in turn support one of Texas’ largest fishing fleets and a host of tourism-based local businesses that rely on the bay’s natural beauty and bounty to stay profitable.

So it comes as no surprise that the bay’s residents grew agitated over the past few months as the Lower Colorado River Authority, or LCRA, which manages the six dams that form the Highland Lakes, openly debated whether or not to shut off the bay’s supply of freshwater and divert it to Austin, more than 160 miles upstream.

On Sept. 18, LCRA requested an exemption from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s requirement that it release the fresh water from the lakes to the bay.

The bay’s residents and state enivornmental groups vehemently protested, pointing out that water restrictions upstream in Austin were not being raised past Stage 2, at which homeowners were still allowed to water their lawns once a week.

A few weeks later fate intervened, as the wettest October on record dropped enough rainfall on the Colorado River Basin to meet the demands of both Austin and the bay without the need for additional water from the Highland Lakes. 

On Oct. 16, LCRA withdrew its application for the exemption. In the letter withdrawing the request, LCRA’s General Manager Rebecca Motal made it clear that this wasn’t the end of the issue. 

“If the board determines at a later date that emergency relief … is needed, LCRA will file a new application,” Motal said. 

In the meantime, LCRA has turned its attention to cutting off flows to rice farmers downstream of Austin in 2014 for what would be the third year in a row.

Those living on Matagorda Bay plan to put as much political pressure as possible on LCRA when the conflict resumes, and are even considering filing a federal lawsuit against it.

As the Texas Water Development Board, or TWDB, begins to determine which of the state’s proposed water projects receive funding and which ones don’t, rural vs. urban water issues like the Matagorda Bay-LCRA dispute will only occur more and more often.

That’s in part because of the vague and sometimes contradictory language of the legislation that created the State Water Implementation Fund. House Bill 4, which established the system by which the money will be distributed, mandates that no less than 10 percent go to rural projects. But it also includes this seemingly contradictory line: “The [TWDB] shall give the highest consideration in awarding points to projects that will … (1) serve a large population; (2) provide assistance to a diverse urban and rural population or (3) provide regionalization.” The bill failed to elucidate whether a “large population” was more important than a “diverse urban and rural population” or vice versa, which seems to defeat the purpose of specifying them at all.

Language like that isn’t the only reason for the unresolved question of how the competition for the water funding will play out, but it certainly doesn’t help.

These disputes are so widely varied that it would be irresponsible to make a blanket judgment about the respective merits of rural and urban water use — they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. But in general, more strict and explicit safeguards must be put in place to prevent Texas’ major cities from using their considerable political power to accumulate more than their fair share of water. That political clout, it should be noted, only stands to grow in coming decades.

For example, according to the TWDB’s most recent population projections, Travis County will more than double in size, adding more than a million new Austinites between 2010 and 2060. By comparison, the two counties that enclose Matagorda Bay — Matagorda and Calhoun — are predicted to grow from their 2010 total of 58,083 by little more than 20,000 over the same period. That’s a wide disparity of new and thirsty voters.

As water resources dwindle and the state population rises, the burden of growing water scarcity should be shared as widely as possible, with no one group or area profiting at others’ expense. After all, it’s the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, not the fund for Austin or Houston or Dallas. One of the TWDB’s major priorities going forward should be to make the division of funds as equitable as possible, lest those major cities continue to enjoy luxuries like green lawns and booming economies while Matagorda Bay and other rural areas cling desperately to life.

Program coordinator of Irrigation and Water Conservation Markus Hogue looks at UT-Austin's water-conserving irrigation system in 2012.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: On Nov. 5, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of a permanent fund for water infrastructure projects, as well as a $2 billion initial investment in that fund. State political leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry, hailed the vote as a major victory: In a statement, Perry said that the people of Texas had “made history, ensuring we’ll have the water we need to grow and thrive for the next five decades, without raising taxes.”

But while we’re just as pleased that Proposition 6 passed, it doesn’t solve the problem of water scarcity in one stroke. To put it in baseball terms, Texas didn’t just win the World Series, or even an important regular season game. We just started the 1st inning on Opening Day.

That’s because the state constitutional amendment was simply a decision to spend billions of dollars on water management. It said nothing about what specific projects would receive funding. In the years to come, the decision of which projects to finance will be one of the most contentious and long-running issues in state history. With that in mind, this is the second in a series of editorials outlining our concerns and predictions for how this issue will develop in the future. Be sure to check out the first, which focused on the extent of the governor’s control over the new fund.

At the election night party celebrating Prop. 6’s passage, State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, the Senate Natural Resources Committee chairman and one of the architects of the State Water Implementation Fund, wasted no time in attempting to offend both environmentalists and supporters of traditional methods of water management. “Unfortunately, Texas is becoming way, way too dependent on Mother Nature,” Fraser said. “We’re not going to ignore reservoirs. We’re going to continue to build them. But we’ve got to do things that are ‘Mother Nature-proof’.”

In general, we disagree with Fraser that Mother Nature is an adversary to be conquered. But he’s right that reservoirs are often not the best solution to drought. They drown useful and/or environmentally important land, are extremely susceptible to evaporation and wreak havoc on already-vulnerable river systems. He’s also right to call for the Texas Water Development Board to “think outside the box.”

We’d go one step further. As the TWDB chooses which projects to fund, it should prioritize conservation as much as possible, as opposed to reservoirs, pipelines and other traditional projects that simply move the water around without doing anything to curb its inefficient consumption. The legislation that created Prop. 6 mandates that at least 20 percent of the SWIFT funding be spent on “conservation and reuse.” It never defines those terms, however, making that target more of a suggestion than a rule unless more explicit requirements are imposed.

The problem isn’t that Texas is too dependent on nature; humans are always going to be dependent on nature whether we like it or not. The problem is that living beyond our means and exploiting the state’s water resources faster than they can be replenished is exactly what got us into this crisis in the first place. That’s what needs to change.

Several conservationist measures in Texas are already achieving success. A wastewater recycling program on the Trinity River, which supplies much of Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston, allows millions more to rely on the river water than if it were still being used as unsustainably as before. And UT-Austin reduced its water use for irrigation by 66 percent after a state-of-the-art upgrade to the nation’s largest water-conserving sprinkler system in 2012, according to UT’s irrigation and water conservation coordinator Markus Hogue.

These are not only more environmentally-friendly solutions to the problem, they’re also cheaper over the long term as water becomes more and more expensive. We’ll need many more like them in the decades to come.

The problem with a wholly conservationist fix, however, is that it’s incompatible with Texas’ projected population and economic growth. The TWDB’s 2012 State Water Plan estimates that the state’s population will nearly double by 2060, without a concurrent rise in water resources. No amount of wastewater recycling plants or efficient sprinklers can make that population problem go away.

But what that discouraging figure tells us is not that we need to fight harder to maintain that level of growth, it’s that we need to accept the fact that this massive, arid state simply can’t sustain a population of nearly 50 million and one of the nation’s largest economies. Investing in conservation, rather than massive, expensive projects that simply move existing resources around, will allow Texas to maximize the level of size and success that it can sustain.

In short, there’s no changing the fact that water will determine the ceiling of Texas’ growth. The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can balance our water budget once and for all.

Photo Credit: John Massingill | Daily Texan Staff

Texas voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of a permanent source of funding for water infrastructure projects and a $2 billion initial investment in that fund Tuesday. State political leaders like Gov. Rick Perry hailed the vote as a major victory: In a statement after the vote, Perry said that the people of Texas had “made history, ensuring we’ll have the water we need to grow and thrive for the next five decades, without raising taxes.” 

But while we’re just as pleased that Proposition 6 passed, it doesn’t solve the problem of water scarcity in one stroke. To put it in baseball terms, Texas didn’t win the World Series or even an important regular season game. We just started the first inning on Opening Day.

The state constitutional amendment was simply a decision to spend billions of dollars on water management. It said nothing about what specific projects would receive funding. In the years to come, the decision of which projects to finance will be one of the most contentious and long-running issues in state history. With that in mind, this is the first in a series of editorials outlining our concerns and predictions for how this issue will develop in the future.

One major potential problem with the newly created State Water Implementation Fund is that almost all of the power over it rests with one agency, the Texas Water Development Board. The TWDB was created by the Texas Legislature in 1957, but until now it has only been able to recommend water management strategies to the state government. After the passage of Prop. 6, however, the agency has the authority to implement as much of its most recent State Water Plan as it can with $2 billion. The 2012 Plan calls for more than $50 billion in water management spending over the next 50 years, so the TWDB will have plenty of work to do for decades.

During the last legislative session, the state legislature drastically overhauled the agency, replacing the previous board with three highly paid, full-time members appointed by Perry. The lawmakers who planned the restructuring, including Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, the Natural Resources Committee chairman, did so in the hopes that the new board would be more “proactive” and plan a more coordinated series of water projects across the state. That’s a valid concern, but we worry that the restructuring of the TWDB — and the $2 billion check voters just handed them — will place an inordinate amount of power in the hands of three Perry appointees. Through the board, the governor’s office will have almost complete control over which groups get the money and which ones don’t.

This will still be an issue long after Perry leaves the governor’s mansion in 2015, but it’s of particular concern for as long as he remains in office, because his administration has developed a bit of a reputation for preferential kickbacks to supporters in the form of government financing.

For example, in 2005 the legislature enacted the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, which Perry championed as a major success story of his pro-business economic policy. Much of the money has helped tech startups get off the ground, and the fund has also invested more than $160 million in Texas universities. But in 2010, The Dallas Morning News reviewed the fund’s recipients and found that more than $16 million had been invested in companies tied to Perry’s major campaign donors. One of the companies, Convergen LifeSciences, Inc., which was founded by a Perry donor, was initially rejected for funding by a regional board before it appealed to a statewide advisory committee made up entirely of Perry appointees. Within eight days, the company’s application was unanimously approved for one of the fund’s largest grants to date. Perry’s office claimed all the companies were fully vetted, but the state auditor disagreed, calling for greater transparency and accountability in the fund’s management in 2011.

Many government investment programs raise conflict-of-interest questions like this, but with billions — instead of millions — of dollars being spent, the SWIFT needs a greater measure of protection against such impropriety than currently exists, and that means more degrees of separation between those deciding who gets the money and those running for statewide reelection.

Photo Credit: John Massingill | Daily Texan Staff

In almost exactly one month, the state of Texas will vote on one of the most important issues in its history. More important, certainly, than the much more publicized races for attorney general, lieutenant governor and even the governorship itself. Many Texans’ livelihoods and the continued prosperity of the state as a whole hang in the balance.

So no pressure.

The vote we are referring to is for a Texas constitutional amendment that would allocate $2.5 billion from the state government’s $12 billion rainy day fund toward funding major water management projects across the state. The measure was up for debate throughout the most recent regular legislative session, and shortly before the session closed the proposal to put the water plan to a statewide vote was raised and quickly approved.

The plan comes in response to the increasingly dire warnings from the Texas Water Development Board, a state agency that monitors the state’s water outlook, that soaring population growth and dwindling water resources presage a disastrous outcome.

According to the TWDB, if Texas does not invest around $53 billion dollars in water management over the next 50 years, its total unmet water needs by 2060 will be more than 800 billion gallons per year, or almost 15 times the amount the city of Austin used in 2009.

When considering those figures, it should be noted that the TWDB bases them on a hypothetical repeat of the “drought of record” of the 1950s, which was the worst in Texas’ recorded history. However, according to Austin Water Utility Director Greg Mezaros, the drought currently parching the state is already worse. “This is not your father’s drought, this is not even your grandfather’s drought,” Mezaros said while testifying to the Austin City Council on Thursday. “This is, in my opinion, the worst drought we’ve faced in Central Texas, ever.” Backing up his claim, the Lower Colorado River Authority forecasts that water levels of lakes Buchanan and Travis will drop below 31 percent in November, past which point this will officially be the drought of record.

Moreover, a study of tree-ring data by the director of UT’s Environmental Science Institute, Dr. Jay Banner, showed that “megadroughts” far harsher and worse than anything previously accounted for are actually regular occurrences in the state’s geologic record, and predicted that droughts harsher than that of the 1950s would happen at least once a decade after 2040.

Needless to say, such an outcome would cripple the state’s agricultural sector, dry up its towns and cities and spell a certain end to the economic success Texas currently enjoys. At that point, the only way the state could reach anything resembling a sustainable equilibrium would be if most of its population packed up and left.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other officials, hoping to avoid that scenario, have spoken out in support of the water amendment and will do so more and more often as the vote approaches. “We stand at a historic crossroads, with a prime opportunity to meet our water needs for ourselves and generations of future Texans,” Perry said Wednesday in San Angelo, a city that is no stranger to water shortages.

We hope supporters of the amendment spend more time convincing the residents of Houston, which will have a disproportionately large impact on the vote. While this November is an off-year election for most of Texas, Houston also has a mayoral contest on the ballot as well as the continued fate of the Astrodome, and turnout is predicted to be much higher there. Thirty percent of the total votes cast in the state are expected to come from Harris County, double the usual figure. That means the wettest part of the state will have an especially large say in what happens to the driest.

It’s our opinion that the constitutional amendment up for a vote this fall, even with its 50-year outlook, is only a temporary measure to delay the inevitable disappearance of a finite resource. No matter how much money the state spends, it can’t change the climate or create water where there is none. It can only allocate existing resources more efficiently. There’s no changing the fact that water will determine the ceiling of Texas’ growth.

However, if the water plan doesn’t pass, farms will die, ranchers will be unable to feed their cattle, and towns will empty. Businesses will leave, unemployment will rise, and the point at which the state’s population will stop going up and start going down will arrive sooner rather than later.

We strongly support the passage of the water amendment, and hope Texas does the same. This state must do whatever it can to prepare itself for a much drier future.

Austinites hit by the downpour this week may not realize Texas faces a water shortage that threatens the state’s long-term ability to provide water for citizens and businesses.

Dan Hardin, water resource planning director at the Texas Water Development Board, said the state’s economy would lose $12 billion annually if current drought conditions continue and the state fails to enact legislation that would address the statewide water shortage. If conditions worsen, the state’s economy would lose $116 billion per year during the 2060s.

“That’s lost income to farmers, manufacturers, employees of those businesses that might lose jobs because of businesses’ inability to operate ... it’s lost personal income,” Hardin said.

Hardin said the state’s water supply is not keeping up with increased demand caused by the state’s growing population. He said the supply is projected to lose 1.75 million acre-feet of water, or 570.5 billion gallons, by 2060. One acre-foot is equivalent to approximately 326,000 gallons.

The state’s current water supply is about 17 million acre-feet and is projected to drop to about 15 million by the 2060s.

At the same time, Hardin said demand for water is expected to increase from about 18 million acre-feet to 22 million by the 2060s.

The state’s population is projected to grow from 26 million to about 46 million by 2060, but a projected 1.5 million people would not move to Texas if the state does not address the need for water infrastructure, Hardin said.

“If we don’t have water supplies, we won’t have that population growth,” Hardin said.

In response to ongoing drought conditions, the development board crafted the 2012 State Water Plan, which calls for $53 billion over 50 years to fund water infrastructure and conservation projects throughout the state.

Under the plan, projects would focus on three areas: conservation and re-use of existing water supplies without developing new water sources; the development of infrastructure to manage and deliver existing water supplies to areas in need; and developing new supplies through desalination and tapping more groundwater supplies and building reservoirs.

The state’s growing population and inadequate water infrastructure are not the only obstacle standing in the way of eradicating the state’s water shortage. State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said rising temperatures, which result in greater evaporation rates, will also contribute to the depletion of water
supplies statewide.

Nielsen-Gammon said although rainfall in Texas has increased over the past century, climate models predict that annual rainfall will decrease by 2060.

“It’s hard to say whether [the models] are wrong about them or if the trend will reverse itself,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “It’s too early to tell.”

Texas lawmakers have sought to address the state’s water infrastructure needs during the current legislative session. In his State of the State Address in January, Gov. Rick Perry advocated using $3.7 billion from the state’s $12 billion Economic Stabilization Fund, nicknamed the Rainy Day Fund, to fund water infrastructure projects in addition to transportation infrastructure.

Legislators have filed a number of bills to fund water infrastructure projects statewide.

One proposal, passed by the House late last month, would create the State Water Implementation Fund, which would take $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to help finance the development board’s projects through bonds. The Senate is considering a similar proposal.

Hardin said drought conditions, particularly conditions the state endured in 2011, focused attention on the state’s infrastructure and may help the state change its attitude in how it addresses water issues in the future.

“Most of us grew up believing water is bountiful and rivers will always run full, but that’s not the case,” Hardin said. “Water’s a limited resource, and we need to recognize that it should be valued.”

Texas lawmakers from all political parties are paying an unprecedented level of attention to Texas’ declining water resources. In addition to a host of smaller bills, both houses of the Legislature have filed major legislation that would allocate money for water management projects from the “Rainy Day Fund,” the state’s $12 billion reserve for unanticipated emergencies. Texas’ dire hydrological future not only qualifies as such an emergency, it’s arguably the biggest crisis this state has ever faced. The Legislature’s initiatives, however, are based on unrealistically optimistic projections, and various interest groups are bickering over what funding has been proposed. At a moment when this state must grit its teeth, buckle down and sacrifice short-term economic prosperity for long-term environmental survival, the major players are squabbling over who gets what portion of a hopelessly inadequate sum.

Almost all of the proposals in the Legislature attempt to meet the recommendations of the Texas Water Development Board, which releases a State Water Plan every five years outlining what Texas needs to do to prepare for a much drier future. Citing enormous population growth and declining water resources, the 2012 State Water Plan estimates that the state’s total unmet water needs in 2060 will amount to about 800 billion gallons per year. It also says that a $53 billion investment in local conservation and management projects is necessary to avoid that fate.

The TWDB has released similarly desperate reports for decades, and for the first time lawmakers are addressing their concerns. Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, have both filed widely-supported legislation that would take $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to pay for the TWDB’s recommendations. “Our projections show that $2 billion would fully implement the State Water Plan as it exists today,” Ritter said in a statement. “With that one-time capital investment, we could provide adequate, meaningful funding to the plan and achieve the state’s goals of supporting local entities in the implementation of projects.”

Since those bills were filed in January, conflict has erupted between competing interest groups as lawmakers focus their attention on prioritizing the TWDB’s many proposals. Urban areas stand to receive by far the largest share of the money, partly for practical reasons — the vast majority of the state’s projected population growth will happen in the cities — and partly for political ones, as all that urban growth means an accordingly large increase in the power of urban voters.

Meanwhile, agricultural interests in the Rio Grande Valley, I-35 corridor and Panhandle demand their share. The Senate initiative mandates that 10 percent of the funding be devoted to rural projects, but to the agriculture lobby’s chagrin, the House bill makes no such promise. Currently 56 percent of Texas’ water supply is used for agricultural purposes, although that percentage is expected to decline as a result of skyrocketing urban growth.

Industry has a vested interest in the Legislature’s funding choices as well. Drilling companies, for example, require large quantities of water for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Their demand for water has grown considerably in recent years, according to a study at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. It’s no secret that Texas lawmakers have long felt pressure from the state’s outsized oil and gas industry, but they’re toughening up on this issue. In a House Natural Resources Committee meeting in February, an industry representative requested tax breaks for drilling companies to encourage water recycling. Allan Ritter, the committee chairman, scoffed at the proposal: “It kinda sounds familiar, the first thing you do is come up and ask for tax incentives. Boy, I’ve heard that a few times. Good luck with that, sir.”

As the interest groups quarrel, the Legislature should be aware of evidence that even the TWDB’s basic premise — that we must prepare for a repeat of the 1950 “drought of record” as the worst-case scenario — may understate the severity of the situation. Although 1950 marked the worst drought in recorded Texas history, that history is only a few hundred years old. A study of tree ring data going back thousands of years by UT’s Environmental Science Institute reports that droughts like that of 1950 are regularly dwarfed by massive “megadroughts,” which last for decades. If such a megadrought occurs in this century — which is likely, the study says — it will be far more debilitating than even the most pessimistic estimates being discussed at the Capitol. Indeed, the ESI study predicts that repeats of the 1950 drought will occur at least once a decade starting in 2040. To prepare for such an outcome, we need to stop worrying about how much money stands to be lost by one group or another and start worrying about our state’s basic survival.

If you plan to spend the rest of your life in Texas, plan to do it without water.

Gov. Rick Perry acknowledged the need to invest in water resource management in his State of the State speech last week.

But Perry justified his point by saying, “Whenever we’re recruiting a business seeking to relocate or expand, a chief concern of theirs is ensuring there are adequate water, power and transportation systems for their needs.”

Water scarcity is not just a concern for profitable business development; it’s a present and immediate threat to the survival of Texas as we know it.

The Texas Water Development Board, a state agency, estimates that the population of Texas, currently at around 26 million, will grow to more than 46 million by the year 2060. Much of that growth will be concentrated in already overtaxed cities and regions like the Rio Grande Valley — the population of which the TWDB projects will nearly triple in the next 50 years. That corresponds to an accordingly large increase in demand for water, especially in urban areas. In that same period, according to the TWDB’s 2012 State Water Plan, the state’s existing water supply is expected to decrease by about 10 percent, mostly due to depletion of the state’s aquifers. The Plan saves readers — and lawmakers — the trouble of subtracting two very large numbers and estimates that the state’s total unmet water needs in 2060 will amount to 2,452,764 acre-feet per year. An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land to the depth of one foot, or about 325,851 gallons.

The Plan’s stated goal is “to ensure that our state’s cities, rural communities, farms, ranches, businesses and industries will have enough water to meet their needs” during a drought similar to that of 1950, referred to by policymakers as the “drought of record.” But even its sobering statistics might be an overly optimistic projection.

According to a recent study of tree rings in West and Central Texas led by the director of UT’s Environmental Science Institute, Jay Banner, droughts like that of 1950 have been regular occurrences in Texas’ history. Even more alarmingly, those droughts have been periodically dwarfed by far more severe “megadroughts” lasting decades or more. These massive climatic events occur in Texas about once every two or three hundred years, most recently at the turn of the 18th century.

And that predated global warming. The ESI study cites projections of “up to four times the global average warming that occurred over the 20th century” in the Western United States, as well as reports that “the Southwest is likely to experience reduced precipitation in addition to higher temperatures.” The study predicts that after 2040, droughts equal to or greater than that of 1950 will happen at least once a decade.

The good part is that the kind of droughts that the State Water Plan views as the worst-case scenario will not just be the norm, they’ll be a relatively positive outcome. The alternative is the kind of multi-decade megadrought that the ESI study says Texas can expect during this century.

Compounding the problem, the Rio Grande and other rivers, which are fed by rainfall rather than snowmelt, will not be able to sustain either municipal populations or agricultural irrigation in the droughts forecasted for our future. The aforementioned population growth will put Texas in a situation reminiscent of the moment in Wile E. Coyote cartoons when the titular canine runs off a cliff and hangs in midair before gulping and looking down.

To their credit, state leaders have done something. The Alliance for Water Efficiency ranks Texas, along with California, first in the country for water conservation and efficiency. And following another severe drought in 2011, Representatives Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) and Allan Ritter (R-Nederland) have recently filed bills that would allocate up to $2 billion from the Legislature’s ironically-named “Rainy Day Fund” to fund some of the TWDB’s recommendations. Larson has also filed a bill that would provide a sales tax incentive for people to buy water-saving appliances over the Memorial Day weekend. These are admirable efforts, but they pale in comparison to the true scope of the problem. Far, far more is needed from residents, businesses and every level of government to prepare for the coming crisis.

The economic, social and life-and-death consequences of multi-year droughts on the scale of those the ESI study predicts are unfathomable. But one thing is certain: 50 years from now, we’ll have a lot more to worry about than how attractive our state is to big business.