Done poorly, efforts to slake a surging thirst for surface water among farms, industries and cities along the Trinity River could harm Galveston Bay, two environmental groups warn.
Environment Texas and the Galveston Bay Foundation are calling for the Texas Water Development Board to make conservation efforts top priorities for funding from a $2 billion pool voters approved last week through Proposition 6.
Representatives of the groups, both of which supported passage of Proposition 6, spoke during a news conference Tuesday at Pier 21 in Galveston where they issued a report on threatened Texas rivers.
Demand for water is expected to rise as Texas adds 21 million residents by 2060, according to the report.
The Texas Water Development Board anticipates that 51 percent of new water supplies will have to come from rivers and streams as the state’s aquifers are becoming increasingly depleted.
The groups said the state’s 2012 water plan relies too much on building reservoirs and diverting river water for agricultural, industrial and municipal uses, which damages river and bay ecosystems.
The report focused on the Rio Grande, Guadalupe, San Saba, Sulphur and Trinity rivers.
The groups urged the board to direct regional water planning groups to include in their 2014 priority lists at least 30 percent of funding for water conservation.
“Last week, Texans overwhelmingly supported Proposition 6, a historic investment in cutting water waste and conserving water,” said Dani Neuharth-Keusch, field associate with Environment Texas Research and Policy Center.
“Now it’s up to the water board to invest the money in a way that restores our rivers and bays while sustainably meeting communities’ water needs.”
The water development board didn’t respond to a request for comment.
At least 500 billion gallons of water are wasted in Texas each year, enough to meet the water needs of 9 million Texans, the report states.
Water is lost through evaporation and over-watering fields, through old, inefficient technology at industrial production sites and through leaking municipal water systems, according to the report.
Anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of the water pumped into municipal systems is lost through leaks, said Bob Stokes, president of Galveston Bay Foundation.
A law accompanying Proposition 6 mandates that at least 20 percent of the funding be used to support water conservation projects and another 10 percent be used for rural or agricultural conservation projects, Neuharth-Keusch said.
“As a result, billions will be available to farmers to upgrade irrigation equipment, to cities to fix leaking municipal water mains, and to businesses to install drought-resistant landscaping or water-efficient appliances,” she said.
One estimate found that as much as 25 percent of the water pumped into the city of Houston’s system was lost to leaks, Stokes said. Houston and Dallas are among the largest municipal users of the Trinity River, which, along with the San Jacinto River, feeds fresh water into Galveston Bay.
The influx of freshwater where the Trinity meets Galveston Bay supports economically important oyster, shrimp and blue crab fisheries, Stokes said. Oysters are particularly vulnerable to higher salinity levels that would come from the loss of freshwater inflows, he said.
“The loss of oysters in Galveston Bay would provide not only a crushing ecosystem blow to the Bay, but also a crushing economic blow to the Bay area,” Stokes said.
Tom Tollett, who owns Tommy’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 2555 Bay Area Blvd., said he was concerned about a reduction of freshwater into Galveston Bay harming oyster beds.
“We have to find a way to meet the needs of one industry without destroying another,” he said.