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From Toilet to Tap

There are things in life that worry me, but generally they do not keep me up at night. However, the more I do this job — that of a journalist — the more I’ve become concerned about something which we take for granted: water.

I see it all the time in our communities as cities are forced to enact water restrictions. What troubles me at the moment, however, is a situation hundreds of miles away from here in the southern part of the state. While I enjoy my green lawn and clean car there are parts of this great state of ours that are dry as a bone, and have been for years. The southeast part of Texas has dried up, literally. Matagorda Bay and the Lower Colorado River are in a severe drought and have been for about the past four years or so, depending on who you talk to. The situation has crippled the region’s fishing and shrimping industry and killed generational businesses that used to call the area home. The ones who haven’t yet lost their businesses — or who haven’t chained their boats to a Matagorda Bay pier because they can’t afford to operate them — have relocated in large part to Louisiana to practice their livelihood.

The problem stems from the obvious and the not-so-obvious. The obvious problem is a lack of rain in the area. You can argue for the existence of global warming or against it but to the people of the region all that matters is that the precious liquid rarely falls from the sky anymore.

The other part of the problem is much more complex. A massive effort by Governor Rick Perry and his administration to bring new business — and by extension, new residents — into Texas has been relatively successful: it is estimated that the state has absorbed nearly 5 million new residents within the past decade. But with new faces comes a massive need for new water supplies. Most of those moving in have populated the Austin, San Antonio and Dallas Ft. Worth sectors and the water demands have risen dramatically.

Enter the water brokers. These men come in and buy underground water rights from landowners and pipe it to the bigger cities at a higher cost. These brokers are emboldened by a Texas law called “the rule of capture” which grants the state ownership of above-ground water and ownership of water below-ground to whoever owns the land above. Right now, as you read this, there is a war going on somewhere in the state between wealthy water brokers and small rural water boards fighting to keep hold of whatever water they can.

Regardless of the fight, the problem is affecting people in a real way. In recent years, Lake Lavon has dwindled to half its size, creating major problems for the Collin County and DFW area; Lake Meredith is nearly dry, affecting Amarillo and Lubbock; and the Rio Grande is so dry that El Paso has enacted “doomsday restrictions,” shutting down car washes and laundromats.

Hey, it could be worse. It’s been reported that Wichita Falls is two years away from having its wastewater treated at a plant and re-purposed as drinking water. They call it “toilet to tap” water and, according to some experts, other cities are looking at having to do the same thing.

Let’s all think about that scenario the next time we set our sprinklers to run for 15 minutes per station.

Rodney Williams is the managing editor for The Anna-Melissa Tribune, Van Alstyne Leader and Prosper Press. He can be contacted at news@amtrib.com, rwilliams@vanalstyneleader.com or rwilliams@prosperpressnews.com.