Saturday, December 28, 2013

Published in the Sun Dec 28, 2013

“We live on the edge of a desert, and our yards are going to look like that.”  These are not the words of a latte-sipping, electric-car-driving, rainwater-collecting environmentalist.  (You thought I was nagging at you again, didn’t you?)  These are the words of John Hofmann, manager of the central and lower basins of the Brazos River Authority, the man ultimately responsible for Georgetown’s water supply.  He means that if we want to continue to have clean, abundant water coming out of our faucets in 2050, we need to stop pouring it on the grass.

It should be a simple message.  Our lake is only 53% full after what seems like a wet fall, even though we are pumping water from Lake Stillhouse in an effort to keep it filled.  The time has come for a paradigm shift on how we use water.  If we are going to have enough water for all the people who already live here, plus the ones who are arriving every day, we will need to use less.  Back to Mr. Hofmann, “You have to raise rates.  Everybody thinks about water like it’s a birthright because it’s so cheap.”  He adds this admonition, “You need to be shooting for under 150 gallons per person per day.”  Georgetown residents currently use over 200 gallons of water per person per day.  The only way to achieve that kind of conservation (unless we want to seriously sacrifice personal hygiene) is to change the way we water our yards.

In addition to advocating conservation, Mr. Hofmann’s presentation to the Chisholm Trail Special Utility District on December 19 also included a lot of information about potential new water resources for the Brazos G region which includes Williamson County and 36 other Texas counties from the lower Panhandle to Navasota in the southeast.

The Bel-house Connector is a $500 million, 8 mile pipeline which would bring water from Lake Belton to Stillhouse Hollow.  For years, Georgetown has been paying more than $600,000 a year for rights to water in Lake Belton, even though the pipeline doesn’t yet exist.  To bring this pipeline to fruition, the BRA still needs to acquire the right-of-way for the pipeline, and get the approval of politicians in Bell County.  Since Belton, Killeen, Copperas Cove, and Harker Heights have all managed to get their own water consumption below 160 gallons per capita per day, the politicians up there may not be so keen to share water from their own growing constituency with water-hog neighbors to the south.  If all the cards fall into place, and if we can get our consumption down to an acceptable level, the Bel-house connector would provide enough water for Williamson County until 2050.  After that we will need to find more.

Another possibility is to build a new lake near Cameron called the Little River Off-Channel Reservoir.  This new reservoir, which would cost $137 million to build and almost $12 million a year to run, would provide about 27,000 acre feet of water per year, or 24 million gallons per day.  To put that number in perspective, the city of Georgetown all by itself can consume over 27 million gallons of water on a hot summer day, two-thirds of which goes – you guessed it - onto the grass.

There are, however, people who oppose the construction of the Little River reservoir.  The resulting lake would submerge over 4000 acres of ranchland.  If your family had been ranching near Cameron for 150 years, you might not be in favor of having your land confiscated so that city slickers can grow posies in the yard.

All water planning in Texas is predicated on a worst case scenario similar to the “drought of record,” our dry spell in the early 1950s.  Mr. Hofmann points out that the “drought of record” is only based on 100 years of data, while historic evidence suggests Texas has experienced droughts much worse than that one.  He also notes that the last 30 years have been some of the wettest in central Texas history, allowing a growth rate that may not be sustainable if the area reverts to a drier climate again.  In summary, the future may have less water filling our lakes, and more people sucking it out.

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