Con Mims, Executive Director of the Nueces River Authority and Chairman of the South Central Texas Regional Water Planning Group briefed The Chamber’s Water Committee on the South Central Texas Regional Water Planning Group’s (Region L) Plan, how it aligns with the State’s Water Plan and what needs to be done to fund it.
Region L is one of the 16 regional water planning groups across the state. These groups identify water needs, assess potential water supplies and recommend strategies for meeting those needs to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). The planning process is designed to ensure enough water for families, businesses and farmers even as the population grows. Protecting the public, economy and natural resources are guiding principles behind these plans.
The water supply for San Antonio and other municipalities located over the prolific Edwards Aquifer is a perennial local concern and one which has certainly been a heightened issue with last year’s record-setting drought. Mims referenced a new study of tree rings, commissioned by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. The study points to evidence that Texas has experienced at least one 10-year drought every 100 years since the 1500’s, and that, since the 800’s, at least four "mega-droughts" lasting 15 to 30 years have occurred in nearby central and northern Mexico. The study also shows that the recurrence of a prolonged severe drought in South Central Texas appears to be the norm rather than the exception.
Region L submitted a $7B plan to the TWDB to create new supplies in excess of 755,000 acre-feet, but such supplies must undergo permitting and regulatory mandates. However, Mims pointed out that opportunities for new water supplies have actually decreased due to “among other things, opposition of inter-basin water transfers, environmental restrictions, and a public aversion to building surface water reservoirs.”
Additionally, the nexus between adequate water supplies and electric generation was highlighted in 2011 as record temperatures placed strains on the state’s electricity grid and ERCOT struggled to avoid blackouts. Although recent rainfall has moderated the drought, there still is legitimate concern that Texas’ electric supply may worsen. Mims explained that while oil and gas production has exploded recently, such water demand is not reflected in the Region L water plan. He also mentioned an influx of industry workers adding additional demand to the already limited water infrastructure in some growing communities.
On the federal level, there is a pending court ruling on the whooping crane lawsuit that has the potential of usurping state control over surface water resources. And, there is a possible U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing of freshwater mussels in this region as endangered species which, also, creates a potential for federal intervention in the state’s control of surface water resources. Both of these matters could come to a head in the new planning period.
Mims has been in the water business for approximately 46 years and noted that no matter what the challenges have been “we have always found the ingenuity and resources necessary to provide the water.” He had a positive message about our leaders and stakeholders working together, that we are in “good hands with outstanding public servants, with intelligent and forward thinking utility directors and environmental leaders who have provided valuable guidance to this region.” He ended with this positive message, “I am optimistic that we will not fail.”