Texas is the fastest growing state in the Union; its population is projected to double by mid-century. To protect our natural heritage, we should meet new demands through efficiency measures whenever possible.
Water utilities across the country have shown that water conservation is a cost-effective way to meet increased water demands. Utilities can create programs that encourage water-efficient behaviors or implement water-efficient technologies. Conserving water by consuming less, wasting less, or reusing more reduces costs and postpones or eliminates the need for expensive and environmentally damaging new dams or similar water supply projects.
A recent National Wildlife Federation report shows that there is an additional one million acre-feet of readily available municipal conservation above and beyond what the 600,000 acre-feet called for in the 2007 State Water Plan. The state plan also recommends 16 new reservoirs, with most of that water going to municipal uses.
All those new reservoirs combined would produce roughly one million acre-feet of water - the same amount that could gained from increased water conservation. This does not necessarily mean that every new reservoir in the plan could be eliminated with water conservation, but it does speak to water conservation's overlooked potential as a serious supply strategy.
Two of the regional water plans that make up the state plan, the Lower Colorado (Region K) and the South Central Texas (Region L), set ambitious conservation goals. Unfortunately, most of the other regions set low targets or did not recommend water conservation at all.
In 2007, the Legislature created a new Water Conservation Advisory Council which will develop a library of best conservation practices and will report biennially on the progress of water conservation within the state. The same legislation created a statewide water conservation public awareness program; however this campaign remains unfunded as of this writing.
Using water more efficiently can help Texas meet the challenges brought on by population growth. Several cities in Texas and elsewhere have been able to significantly reduce their per person water use through water conservation programs.
The city of San Antonio has used a combination of several water efficiency programs to good effect. Total water use in the region has remained fairly constant since the early 1980s, even as the city's water utility has added roughly 300,000 customers. To learn more about how San Antonio reduced its water use,read the case study. In 2007, the City of Austin also created an ambitious water conservation program that aims to cut over 10% off the city's peak demand over a ten year period.
One of the simplest conservation measures a utility can implement is a conservation rate structure. This type of structure creates an incentive for the consumer to reduce their water use. An effective program should have affordable prices for reasonable quantities of water and subsequent blocks with increasing rates per unit of water. Only those who use large amounts of water would be affected by the highest rates. Conservation rate structures can have a neutral or positive impact on a utility's revenues.
Other conservation programs focus on technological solutions such as plumbing fixture retrofits. Toilets manufactured in the 1980s often needed 4 gallons of water per flush; today's most efficient toilets use an average of just 1.28 gallons per flush. Simply changing out these older toilets with new fixtures can lead to automatic savings of well over 10,000 gallons per household per year.
A study of water conservation programs conducted by the TWDB and GDS Associates (Quantifying the Effectiveness of Various Water Conservation Techniques in Texas, March 2002) found water conservation to be cost effective compared with traditional water-supply strategies, such as damming a river.
Unfortunately, not all cities in Texas are pursuing conservation as aggressively as they could. The state requires cities to turn in conservation plans with 5- and 10-year targets for water savings, but frequently these plans lack ambitious goals and do not include concrete plans for increasing efficiency. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) Water Conservation Implementation Task Force recommended a minimum 1% reduction per year of current per capita usage with a statewide average goal of 140 gallons per capita per day (GPCD).
Water efficient toilets can save well over 10,000 gallons per household per year. Photo courtesy of Caroma USA.
Conservation Potential for Municipalities, Agriculture, and Industries
Most water used in Texas goes to municipal, agricultural, and industrial uses. Each of these areas has untapped conservation potential.
Irrigated agriculture is the biggest user of water in Texas. There is enormous potential for savings in the agricultural arena through new technologies such as laser-leveling of fields or efficient irrigation systems. These technologies promise significant water savings but the cost can be prohibitive for many farmers.
Municipalities use roughly one-quarter of Texas' water supply. This category is expected to increase dramatically over the coming decades as population increases. Several cities around the country and in Texas have dramatically reduced their per person rates of water use. These cities have generally found that water conservation is the most cost-effective option.
Manufacturing uses roughly 10% percent of Texas' available water supply. While each industry and industrial process is unique, there is potential for increased water efficiency. In one widely-publicized example, Texas Instruments built a state-of-the-art new silicon wafer fabrication facility in Richardson that was projected to use roughly one-third less water than the company's older plant.
There are many ways in which individuals can contribute to water savings both around their own household and in the political arena. Read below to find out more.
I. Understand your local water system:
What is the source of your water?
Who provides your water?
What incentives to conserve does your water provider offer?
II. Encourage conservation where you live
Find out what your local water provider offers to encourage water conservation. Encourage your water provider to improve the efficiency of your local water system.
Encourage the water planners in your region to incorporate conservation more fully into their regional plan.
Contact us to learn more about issues related to water conservation and to find out what else you can do.
III. Curb your water use!
Only run the dishwasher or washing machine with a full load. If it is time to
replace either of these appliances, check in with your utility about rebates for
water-conserving versions and purchase those instead.
Water your lawn on the right day. Are you odd or even? Most Texas cities
restrict outdoor water use to one or two days a week during times of drought.
Save water and avoid fines by learning and following your city's schedule.
Catch the condensation from your AC unit and use it in your yard. Depending
on how your air conditioner is programmed, it can produce gallons of water per
day. Catch that water in a bucket and put it on your garden, shrubs and trees.
Turn the water off when you brush your teeth. This simple step can save up to 8
gallons of water per day.
Fix leaky faucets. Leaky faucets can waste up to 7 gallons of water per day. To
check for leaks at home, read your water meter and avoid using water for 2 hours.
Read the meter again after this period. If the amount is different, you have a leak.
Fix running toilets. Running toilets can waste a lot of water. Fix these leaks as
soon as you find them. Check with the manufacturer of your toilet for the proper
replacement "flapper" to ensure maximum efficiency.
Inspect your irrigation system. Have your system inspected by your water utility
or a certified irrigator to make sure it is operating correctly, identify any problems
and help you set it to run more efficiently. Many cities offer free inspections.
Install faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads. These water saving devices
are cheap and easy to install. Many utilities give them away to their customers.
Check with your utility and pick up a few extras to share with your neighbors!
Install a high efficiency toilet. Toilets account for about 25% of water used in the
home. Depending on the age of your toilet, you can save up to 5 gallons per flush
by replacing older models. Check with your city for possible rebates.
Make water conservation a whole-family activity. Challenge your family
members to think of new ways to save water and to be part of the solution.