Texas, Improve Your Water Sustainability

Justice DuBois, Senior Columnist

The sights of Austin’s lakes on any given day are filled with students relaxing after a long day of classes, trail bikers weaving around pedestrians and dogs panting from the Texas sun. The experience of visiting Austin’s connecting lakes is integral to the city’s culture. However, these beautiful landmarks are in danger of falling victim to Texas’ high rates of droughts. In August, 43% of the state was in extreme to exceptional drought. To make matters worse, the Texas legislature has given limited funding to water sustainability efforts and enacted laws that further the issue.

The Texas government needs to give precedence to water sustainability efforts by investing in water conservation districts and groundwater research. 

In Texas, about 60% of the water used is groundwater, whereas the rest is surface water.  While groundwater is a renewable resource, its stability has declined in recent years because the rate of use is surpassing the renewal rate.

Groundwater contributes to over half of the U.S.’s drinking water supply, almost two-thirds of groundwater is used for crops and plant growth and it is a source of surface water recharge for many of our Austin water landmarks. Although its use is important, there are not many laws and regulations protecting this resource. 

Environmental engineering sophomore Adam Boehnke, got engaged in the topic of water sustainability due to his family’s experience of raising cattle. For his family, the effects of the droughts in Central Texas were magnified.

“I feel students should care about this issue because we are the people who can see hypocrisy being done in organizations, institutions like the government and various regulations,” Boehnke said. “We can see those because we’re not a part of them. We’re not a part of the system yet.” 

The ownership of groundwater is allocated to landowners due to Texas water law. This allows landowners to use as much groundwater as they please without the consideration of their neighbors or the state. 

There are not many regulations on groundwater use from the state government. However, to help with droughts, the Texas government instituted groundwater conservation districts, which aid in water sustainability locally. GCDs are tasked with regulating construction standards to prevent water pollution, educating locals about groundwater conservation and managing its use throughout the region. 

However, these GCDs are not yet instated in every county. Currently, only about 70% of counties are managed by GCDs. Further, these districts often are not funded accordingly to make a vast impact statewide. 

Vanessa Puig-Williams, director of Texas Water Program at the Environmental Defense Fund, said many districts are restricted by a lack of state funding, resources and localized data. 

“We invest billions of dollars in Texas, in building out water infrastructure projects, but we invest very little money in the management of groundwater, which is sourcing many of the water projects that communities rely on for their water supply,” Puig-Williams said. “Our government should be more proactive in looking at both our infrastructure development and our water supply management more holistically. One way to do that, I think, is to increase the amount of funding that the state is investing in groundwater science.”

Puig-Williams also believes that the state’s motivations behind the increased funding of GCDs for certain districts are due to wildlife, not for the locals primarily affected by a lack of groundwater.

“Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District manages groundwater to ensure that these springs flow to maintain the habitat for these endangered species,” Puig-Williams said. “That has always surprised me. I’ve never understood how we go to such great lengths to protect an endangered amphibian, but we seem to be unwilling to do the same for ourselves.” 

There have been changes to implement more green energy in Texas, but there have been few changes to make sustainable water systems due to a lack of public interest and knowledge. 

Some Texas politicians prioritize rugged individualism, which is when people want social and economic freedom from the government — regardless of the greater good. This mindset has prevented Texas courts from implementing the American rule of ‘reasonable use’ with groundwater. 

Research shows that regions with highly individualistic mindsets are more likely to have higher carbon footprints and be less eager to take responsibility for their environmental impact. Sustainability should take precedence over individualism because environmental change is something that requires the collective good. The effects of continuing unsustainable acts can lead to catastrophic impacts that should be regulated.  

The issue of groundwater sustainability in Texas is prevalent and needs to be more actively addressed in government. The management of groundwater requires further scientific research into groundwater sustainability measures and increased funding in GCDs. 

DuBois is a public relations and sociology sophomore from Killeen, Texas.