These papers were written as part of the coursework for Texas Water Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
The lack of water accessibility in some of the unincorporated communities along the Texas-Mexico (colonias) continues to gain the attention of politicians, advocates, and private providers. For a long time, economists have argued that there is no incentive for public or private investment in these areas because the price hike resulting from new infrastructure could not be afforded by the residents. This paper explores the advantages and disadvantages of public-private partnerships for the provision of public services, as well as the impact that current water pricing regulations and nonprofit water services programs have on water accessibility in Texas colonias.
The Consequences of Water Pollution, by Claire Schreiber
With multiple Superfund sites designated in the greater-Houston area, Harris County has a long history of dealing with harmful environmental pollution and the adverse health impacts that result from exposure to polluted waters. This paper presents an update on the case of the San Jacinto Waste Pits, as previously examined in "Local Damages, Local Control: The Case of the San Jacinto Waste Pits" by Andres Diamond-Ortiz (a link to that analysis is also found on this page). The consequences of pollution, namely the resulting high rates of cancer in eastern Harris County, merit greater examination and accountability of polluters, especially in the wake of HB 1794's passage in the 84th Texas Legislative Session.
Assessments and Recommendations for Texas Drought Policy, by Frank Schalla
Drought policy in the State of Texas is closely related to historical droughts in Texas. The Drought Preparedness Council was established in 1999 with a mitigation-based approach to drought planning through drought monitoring, impact assessment and response. Looking beyond Texas, Australia is considered a leader in drought policy as it shifts perspective from “dealing with drought” to “living with dryness” through building self-sufficiency within rural businesses to manage their own risks. This paper seeks to assess and provide recommendations to strengthen the current drought planning system in Texas.
An Assessment of the Feasibility and Sustainability of Increased Water Reuse in Austin, Texas, by Tess Haegele
With current water supplies in Texas deemed insufficient to meet future water demand, the current State Water Plan recommends alternative sources including water reuse. Water reuse is the process of treating wastewater to either non-potable or potable standards to be used again. To understand how to best plan for expanding capacity, this paper focuses on review and analyses of existing reuse programs in several foreign countries and cities in Texas. It assesses the future feasibility and sustainability of these projects, identifying “best practices” and “lessons learned” that could be considered in the planning context for the City of Austin.
The Implications of Brackish Water Desalination in Texas, By Tabish Khan
With the population of Texas projected to dramatically increase in coming decades and the determination that existing ground and surface water resources will fall short in meeting future water demands, the need is high to identify additional water sources. Brackish desalination is one additional source that is being targeted. This paper reviews the current state of brackish desalination and associated opportunities and challenges.
Crisis spurs innovation, and one of the innovations to come out of California is “water neutral development,” often referred to as “demand offset programs.” This type of experimentation will have to come to Texas at some point, and ideally sooner rather than later. But while Californians are used to environmental regulation, Texans are not, begging the question, are legal ordinances the best way to import the “water neutral” idea?
Groundwater Management Policy in Texas: Challenges and Recommendations, by Behnaz Bolhassani
Groundwater in the U.S. is managed through five different rules and regulations and each state employs a different policy based on its cultural, socio-economic, and political environment. During the past few years, California and Texas experience the same drought condition which lowered the water table in both states. The groundwater management in both states has evolved over time in different ways based on water demand and supply. This paper gives an overview of policies for groundwater management in Texas and California, and recommends alternative policies to address the challenges of current management strategies.
Invisible Government: Special Purpose Districts in Texas, by Cicely Kay
As more service providing has become the responsibility of local governments, the utilization and establishment of special purpose districts has become more widespread and important. These districts provide mechanisms and revenues to sustain development in fast-growing Texas. Special purpose districts are able to provide infrastructure and services to areas that cities or counties are unable or unwilling to service. However, as these special districts proliferate across the state, their growth has gone largely unchecked. While special purpose districts are important mechanisms to allow for growth in previously undeveloped areas, they are themselves a form of government. As such, citizen participation, transparency and accountability should be ensured during the creation and subsequent operation of these districts.
Local Damages, Local Control: The Case of the San Jacinto Waste Pits, by Andres Diamond-Ortiz
The benefit that Texas realizes by attracting companies through low regulation comes at the expense of protecting its natural resources and the citizens who rely on them. This is particularly evident in how Texas handles water quality issues. The state, in its aim to accommodate and attract business, has constructed a lax water quality regulatory and enforcement environment through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state agency charged with monitoring water quality and assessing penalties for violations through the Texas Water Code. Fortunately, both the federal and local government can play a role in protecting rivers in Texas through federal regulation and the Texas Water Code itself. As evidence, this paper presents the case of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, a pollution case that highlights the dangers posed by lax regulation of surface water quality.
Municipal Setting Designations: Good or Bad Water Policy in Texas, by Owen Chilongo
One of the issues that the precautionary principal tries to address is the prevention of irretrievable damage that can be made to the environment. With regards to groundwater supply, the loss of any significant amount of water from aquifers can have devastating effects at many levels, especially when that loss is caused by pollution and contamination. Some contaminated groundwater can be remediated, but the remediation process may take a long time, depending on the nature of the contaminant. At worst, some groundwater has been found to be impossible to remediate due to cost, and end up being completely written off. The focus of this paper is to examine if the intentional disregard of contaminated groundwater in Texas is good or bad for water policy planning and development. These banned contaminated groundwater sources are classified as Municipal Setting Designations (MSD) in the state of Texas.
Numbers Never Lie (Sometimes): A preliminary Investigation into the Role of Data in Water Policy Planning, by Michael O'Conner
This report investigates the data-driven process behind the creation of a Regional Water Plan within Texas. It focuses specifically on the modeling and monitoring of the major groundwater reservoir for the Texas Coast, the Gulf Coastal Plains Aquifer system (specifically the central portion), and a major river system for the Texas Coast, the Guadalupe/San Antonio River Basin.
Wastewater Reuse in Texas, by John Montgomery
Wastewater is on the cusp of a revolution in Texas, but there are crucial stumbling blocks that must be removed before it can succeed. Wastewater has a long history of reuse, and its current preeminence is driven by both external and internal pressures. The obstacles to broader wastewater adoption include systemic water ownership issues in the Texas legal system and resulting regulatory hurdles. This paper gives the history of wastewater reuse in Texas, explores the drivers for increased reuse, and provides solutions to promote reuse projects.
Water Marketing: designed for groundwater management in Texas, by Natalie Ballew
Water markets are increasingly recommended to efficiently allocate scarce water resources among all users. Water marketing is not a new concept for Texas, and there is plentiful analysis of the benefits and barriers to successful water marketing. Now is the prime time to use water marketing as a groundwater management tool in light of emerging tensions about allocation. As groundwater resources continue to play an important role in meeting future water demand and trends of rural to urban transfers increase, there needs to be some serious thought put into the way groundwater is managed through the current groundwater management strategy and how groundwater is addressed in future legislation and policy. This paper outlines the way market-based solutions can be used for groundwater management in Texas and what institutional changes need to take place to support these solutions.