Galveston County has received about 7 inches of rain in the past month, and while it might seem like a lot, it’s not enough to bring the county out of dry conditions.
“We’re still not out of it,” said Emily Seldomridge, a water policy and outreach specialist with the Galveston Bay Foundation, who also is affiliated with the Texas Living Waters Project.
“Once we start to get rain, people forget that we’re on the verge of a drought and begin to consume water again quickly.”
More than half of the state’s population lives in the Galveston Bay Watershed, and water conservation is becoming more important every year.
Galveston County gets most of its water from the surface from rivers, more specifically, three canals that span from the Brazos River.
But in times of drought, because the majority of the water supply is allocated through water rights, cities could almost suck the rivers dry, regardless of the environment.
Seldomridge said she thinks the easiest way to combat water overuse is to reduce outdoor irrigation.
Watering lawns only two times a week, converting the lawn into a rain garden, which contours the land to accept all the runoff so irrigation isn’t needed, and planting native grasses are a few ways to conserve water outside.
Rainwater harvesting, where rain is collected through the gutter from the roof, also is a viable way to save water for irrigation.
The city of League City, which gets its water from Trinity Bay, recently sold 200 rain barrels. Each barrel was $65 with a $25 rebate.
“We were searching for different avenues to help our citizens get the idea about conserving water instead of just asking them to use less water in the house,” said Suzanne Bucher, an administration assistant with the city.
Daniel Gibbs, a firefighter with League City, heard about the barrels at an awards ceremony hosted by the city because his daughter won a water conservation art contest in early May. On a hot Saturday afternoon, with help from his son and two daughters, he installed the rain barrel in less than an hour.
Gibbs said he thought it was a good idea because his 14-year-old son, Chandler, has a vegetable garden in the backyard. This year’s harvest is bigger than previous years with jalapeños, tomatoes, green beans and edamame.
The Gibbs’ new 50-gallon barrel, which can fill up with less than 1/10 of an inch of rain, will help keep his garden watered.
“I’ll use it a lot, assuming we get rain,” Chandler said.
More than half of the water in Texas is used toward outdoor irrigation, and in the summer the amount almost doubles, Seldomridge said.
“If people conserve water outside, conservation helps us avoid big water projects,” she said.
Those projects include plans like the proposed Marvin Nichols dam in northeast Texas, which would flood more than 72,000 acres of land and pipe the water uphill to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Desalinization plants, the process of filtering salt water to make it drinkable, are another costly but effective way of increasing the area’s water supply.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said he thinks the county is really behind in conservation efforts and the only way to fix the water shortage is to have a desalinization plant service the region.
“We don’t have an immediate water problem, but it’s down the road,” he said.
El Paso is home to the world’s largest inland desalinization plant. It produces 27.5 million gallons of fresh water daily.
It cost $91 million to build the plant. Federal money would have to be used to build a plant in the area, as the cost would exceed the county budget.
“There would be no way we could afford to build it ourselves,” Henry said.
Desalinization also costs about five times more than retrieving water from fresh water sources. And while the El Paso plant extracts brackish groundwater then returns the waste back into the ground, Henry said the suggested Galveston plant would take water from the Gulf of Mexico.
“The only guaranteed source where no one is going to complain is the sea,” he said.
Henry said he thinks the first step to water conservation is to spread awareness and for cities to agree on the stages of water rationing.
“The cheapest water we have is what we have today,” Seldomridge said. “Don’t waste it.”