February 3, 2011
Which Texas city is best at conserving water? Houston? El Paso? Dallas? Amarillo? San Antonio? And which region of the state is best at making the most of its existing water resources? South Texas? Central Texas? The Gulf Coast?
No one really knows, although some cities claim they are the champs. Water planners in San Antonio and El Paso, for example, often tout their gallons-per-capita rate as the best in Texas. And residents in Northeast Texas claim that North Texans are water hogs.
But the answers depend on how you look at the measurements — hence, the confusion in comparing water use across Texas.
Dallas does have a slightly higher gallons-per-capita rate when you consider only residential consumption. But when you factor in the city’s many industries, Dallas has a good conservation rate. That overall per capita use compares favorably around the state.
State Sen. Florence Shapiro rightly wants to correct this mishmash of measures, which has led not just to confusion but to tension between different cities and regions. The Plano Republican has introduced legislation that would require state water experts to create a common way for municipalities and water utilities to measure water consumption.
Her bill, SB 181, would call for the Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, in consultation with the state’s water conservation council, to create a metric that would factor in the ways different parts of Texas use water.
For example, the agricultural parts of the state have few people but need ample water to raise their crops and livestock. A gallons-per-capita standard will always make them look as if they are using too much water.
A common measure is important for another reason, too. Water conservation is a crucial part of the state’s ability to supply resources for Texans over the next 50 years. Water planners need to know whether those strategies are working. For instance, North Texans are banking on water conservation and water reuse plans to supply at least a quarter of their future water supplies.
Shapiro is not the only senator pushing this legislation. State Sen. Kel Seliger , R-Amarillo, also is a sponsor. So is state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.
Given the wide-ranging geographic support for the bill, plus its bipartisan backing, the Senate Natural Resources Committee should move quickly on this bill.