Water Crisis Threatens Local Agriculture

A high energy demand and growing populations in West Texas leave water pricing and the future of agriculture in question.

A senior hydrogeologist at Texas-based Cirrus Associates said 95 percent of water taken each year from the Ogallala Aquifer goes toward agriculture, but the aquifer is at the leading edge of a water crisis.

“Agriculture cannot be sustained in the Southern High Plains,” said Judy Reeves, speaking at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Lubbock. “We really need to start talking about the next economy here.”

The Ogallala Aquifer, the groundwater supply for the Southern High Plains, is losing a foot of water each year, Reeves said. However, during last year’s drought, the aquifer lost more than two feet, she said.

Sharlene Leurig was a panelist with Reeves at last week’s SEJ workshop, “Squeezing Water from a Desert,” and provided some answers to attaining water for water managers in West Texas.

Western utility water rates need to be adjusted to their expenses, said Leurig, senior manager with the water program, Ceres. The revenue from the amount of water being used by the average household and water utilities’ expenses are leaving the utilities with less overhead, she said.

According to Water Ripples: Escalating Risks for U.S. Water Providers, a Ceres water report authored by Leurig, supply constraints are altering the economics of changing water because of growing infrastructure investment needs and a declining water demand.

“All over the U.S., the story is the same, people are using less water,” Leurig said. “Between the 1970s and the late 2000s, the amount of water used by American households fell everywhere.”

According to a report from Ceres, this trend in West Texas can be attributed to drought. The report also shows the two lakes feeding the city of Lubbock are below 30 percent capacity.

Leurig said the trend is also affected by other factors, including water-efficient fixtures, smaller households and water management programs that have required less water usage.

An executive aide for the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District said aging infrastructures have created a problem for transporting water efficiently because municipalities lack funds.

“Municipalities like Lubbock did set aside funds to replace the infrastructure to transport water,” said executive aide, Sherry Stephens.

According to the water report from Ceres, 80 percent of the water is transported by public systems.

“Building a rate system will encourage people to use less water and allows public systems to make enough money to pay off the water transportation structures,” Leurig said.


-by Tanner Tate
Contributed to The Hub by Jour 3312


About Tanner Tate
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