Using less water is the cheapest way to meet Texas' long-term water needs. The state water plan envisions nearly a quarter of Texas' future water supplies coming from conservation. So what could and should Texas lawmakers do to promote the idea of saving water?
This is a tricky question, because conservation is generally the domain of local authorities. The nature of water supplies varies tremendously from place to place. Some towns may have fairly stable reservoirs, while others draw from diminishing aquifers. So local groups maintain day-to-day management of their water supplies, including ordering restrictions at times of drought (as many Texas cities have).
But environmentalists and some lawmakers say the state has a key role to play in promoting conservation. Blanket statewide watering restrictions seem politically infeasible, given the unpopularity of mandates. But other options abound. State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, has filed a bill to create a sales-tax exemption for water-saving appliances sold over Memorial Day weekend, and environmentalists' other ideas (not yet in bills) include requiring farmers to put meters on their water wells and preventing homeowners' associations from barring drought-resistant landscaping. Improving how Texas measures water use and water savings is also high on the agenda of the Water Conservation Advisory Council, a group that brings together representatives of numerous state agencies.
Texas has passed water-conservation bills in the past. In fact, Texas and California rank first among all states in water efficiency, according to a September report from the Alliance for Water Efficiency. Texas accumulated points for laws such as requiring water utilities to audit their water losses and limiting the amount of water that toilets and urinals can use. (A 2009 measure by state Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, tightened the limits, some of which take effect in 2014.) The Legislature created the Water Conservation Advisory Council in 2007; last month it produced a report filled with recommendations for the Legislature.
But Texas, with its fast-growing population, needs to do more, water experts say. "Even though we're requiring [utilities to have water conservation plans and] we're requiring reports on implementation, at the end of the day there is just not enforcement of any of those things," said Carole Baker, executive director of the nonprofit Texas Water Foundation. Requiring more consistent implementation of water conservation plans is one area where the Legislature could act, she said.
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