If Texas does not implement a new water plan soon, Magnolia and Tomball area residents and the more than 10,000 farmers, ranchers and energy businesses in the region, will have a water shortage by 2060, according to area leaders.
With explosive energy sector and population growth in Harris and Montgomery counties, ensuring adequate water supply is crucial to continuing a strong region, said Texas State Representative Cecil Bell Jr., a freshman legislator representing parts of Montgomery and Waller counties in District 3.
Voters will weigh in on the issue on Election Day through Proposition 6, which asks whether legislators can move $2 billion from the rainy day fund to a new account for a state water plan to address the shortage.
“We know that in 50 years, the demand for water is going to be up and the supply down,” said Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce. “The aquifers are low. There are many businesses that rely on an abundance of water to run their factories. For residents in Tomball, we have to have good quality water and sustainable water. It’s a huge challenge we have to come to grips with in order to continue to remain attractive.”
House Bill 4 was constructed in early January to support the next 50 years and $30 billion worth of the state’s water supply and promote water conservation after the statewide 2011 drought that created $8.7 billion in damages. The state water plan will ensure that cities, rural communities, farms, ranches, businesses and industries have enough water during a drought.
Proposition 6 does not add any extra fees or costs to residents, Bell said. It opens an avenue for funding for Harris and Montgomery counties for potential future water projects.
“People generally don’t understand that Proposition 6 is not a tax,” said Barbara Payne, spokeswoman for the North Harris County Regional Water Authority. “It is money that has already been collected by the state. It simply puts it in a way that it can be utilized for something that affects every single one of us. It was for a rainy day. Actually what it’s turned out to be for is a drought.”
Tomball and Magnolia residents and businesses currently use groundwater, and residents will be indirectly impacted by other nearby regions using the funds to convert to surface water, Payne said. The reduction of nearby communities on the ground supply will leave more water available to groundwater users. It’s a domino effect, Payne said.
One of the major factors playing into why Tomball and Magnolia are not being converted to surface water is that groundwater supplies for both cities are strong.
The water levels in Magnolia and Tomball are not currently in any danger, according to city water officials. Last year, Tomball added two wells to its system, bringing the total to five wells.
Even though the current situation is manageable and neither city is expecting water shortages in the near future, population growth does raise questions about the long term.
One project that would help Tomball and Magnolia’s long-term groundwater supplies, is the Luce Bayou Project, developed to stream water from the Trinity River into Lake Houston to alleviate Lake Conroe water levels. Water supply in Harris County residential areas will look to benefit the most. The Luce Bayou canal, once completed, would have the capacity to pump 400 million gallons of water daily to residents within the Houston Metro area.
That project could potentially be funded with money from the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas (SWIFT) account.
“Down the road, Tomball and Magnolia may be in line to receive surface level water,” Payne said. “For right now, the more people you can get off groundwater [and converted] to surface water, it extends the life of the aquifer. For the people who have to be on [groundwater], their supply is extended. If people can be weaned off to surface water, you have a better chance of everybody continuing their supply.”
House Bill 4
Passed through the Texas House and Senate in May under HB 4, the state’s water supply would be conserved through $2 billion in funding from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, or rainy day fund. The state would put that money in the new SWIFT account, outside the general revenue, to fund the water plan laid out in HB 4.
Texas does not have a dedicated funding source for water infrastructure to support the anticipated future rise in public demand on the water supply, Bell said. By 2060, the state water supply is expected to decrease 18 percent, while the water demand is expected to increase 27 percent, Bell said.
“If we do nothing, we will come up short 3 trillion gallons of water by 2060,” Bell said “While that seems like a long time, if you consider where we are today, we’ve not done anything to address the problem, and our population is literally doubling. We have to address it and we have to address it now. Proposition 6 certainly moves that ball forward.”
Texas State Representative Allen Fletcher, a three-term legislator representing Harris County in District 130 in Northwest Houston, supports Proposition 6.
“I’m really happy we’re getting some rain, but we’re still way below our numbers,” he said. “I think it’s important we pass the use of these monies. We can’t just put our heads in the sand and wait. We have to deal with the reality of the future. The truth is it takes 40 years for these big projects to take effect. You have to think long term.”
The 2012 State Water Plan integrated with HB 4 recommends 562 unique water supply projects to meet the state’s projected needs for additional water supplies throughout the next 50 years.
“Everybody understands we have to have a plan,” said Gary Underwood, director of agriculture appraisal for Harris County. “We’re growing rapidly here. The demand is going to be there more and more. We’ve got to have more water. It’s a continual need as long as we have the growth we have.”
A stable water supply is essential to continuing to attract businesses to the region, legislators said.
“Water is a critical part of Texas and we have to do something about the water issue,” Fletcher said. “I voted for it. We have to make smart business decisions. The only thing other states can say about Texas is ‘be careful if you go to Texas, they may not have water’. That is the only push back. The truth is that’s not a reality. We’re not going to let that happen in Texas.”
Proposition 6 will benefit future generations of Texans, Bell said.
“It’s a topic we cannot downplay,” Bell said. “We owe it to future generations of Texans to be responsible and address this problem now to ensure that the water is available for our kids, so that Texas will continue to be the prosperous state that it currently is.”
With additional reporting by Connor Hyde and Shawn Arrajj