A look at drought in Texas: Strategic Framework

A look at drought in Texas report is part of our blog series for Texas 2036’s Strategic Framework, which provides in-depth, cross-cutting data to inform key decisions about the most significant issues facing the state.

Nearly a century ago, a state meteorologist penned the now-famous line, “Texas is a land of perennial drought, broken by the occasional devastating flood.” Since the time Texas was a republic, nearly every generation has endured the hardships of drought.  

In recent memory, we had the historic drought of the 1950s that sparked the state’s transition away from a rural, agriculturally-based economy. Since then, there were significant droughts during the 1980s, 2000s and in 2011, which was the worst one-year drought in the state’s recorded history. Even 2022 has been notable for the presence of severe drought conditions across the state.

Absent beneficial rainfall, the water supplies in our rivers, lakes and streams rapidly diminish. In the meantime, the onset of drought conditions accelerates demands for groundwater.

Source: Texas 2036 Strategic Framework

Goal No. 17 in Texas 2036’s recently updated Strategic Framework includes several data points that underscore the need for more water supplies in a drought-prone state. First, more thirsty people will be living in Texas in the coming decades. According to projections by the Texas Water Development Board, our state’s water planning agency, as our population increases over the next 50 years, so will our demand for water. Based on TWDB’s projections, our collective thirst will increase from 17.7 million acre-feet in this decade, to 19.2 million acre-feet by the 2070s. 

Unfortunately, as we expect our water demands to grow, we also anticipate that our available water supplies will shrink. The TWDB projects that the amount of available water supplies — water in our rivers, reservoirs and aquifers — will diminish from 16.8 million acre-feet in this decade to 13.8 million acre-feet in the 2070s. The reduction in available water supplies will result from sedimentation of our rivers and lakes and depletion of groundwater resources.

Source: Texas 2036 Strategic Framework

Taken together, these two data sets — increasing water demands and diminishing water supplies — point towards a long-term water supply deficit for Texas. Given that we live in a land of perpetual drought, these data point towards the imperative for both developing more water supplies and adopting water management strategies like water markets that provide water for a thirsty, growing state.