Notes from DFW: Water, Electric Reliability Essential for Growth

The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex sits at the top of the Texas Triangle. This geographic distinction matches the region’s economic and demographic achievements where DFW accounts for 28.7% of the state’s economy as nearly 27% of Texans call the area “home.” For greater perspective, more people live in DFW than in 38 other states.

Now the fourth largest region in the US – with an eye towards surpassing Chicago soon – DFW has enjoyed an unprecedented economic boom. Since 2010, 250 corporate headquarters have moved there, contributing to 1.4 million new jobs in the region. The oil town of J.R. Ewing’s fictional era now boasts 33% of Texas’ technology jobs and 31% of those in the manufacturing sector.

These were some of the key data points shared by the Dallas Regional Chamber’s leaders at the Chamber’s State of Infrastructure summit last week. But the continuation of this economic success, and DFW’s pole position in the Texas Triangle, hinges on the availability and reliability of two key ingredients: electricity and water. Last week’s summit explored these two challenges in greater detail.

The event’s keynote address was made by Pablo Vegas, President and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or what we call ERCOT. The population and economic growth enjoyed by DFW has been shared across the state in the form of the Texas Economic Miracle.  Mr. Vegas described an “incredible growth story coming” as Texas seeks more electricity for a growing state with an expanding economy.

According to ERCOT estimates, Texas’ electric demands will surge from 85,000 gigawatts to 151,000 gigawatts in 2030.  Here, a growing, diversified generating portfolio – including wind, solar, battery storage, and dispatchable thermal generation – will be needed to match these surging demands.

While electricity will serve to keep DFW’s and the state’s commerce humming, reliable water supplies and infrastructure are essential for its survival. I had the opportunity to explore this issue while moderating a panel with Brooke Paup, Chairwoman of the Texas Water Development Board, Sarah Schlessinger, CEO of the Texas Water Foundation and Abraham Tueme, Director of Sustainability with Arca Continental Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages.

DFW, like the rest of Texas, faces two key water infrastructure challenges. The first involves securing and expanding our water supply portfolio in a drought-prone state. The second challenge involves fixing our aging, deteriorating and leaking water and wastewater systems.

The solutions here are not cheap. Chairwoman Paup noted that the 2022 State Water Plan identifies $80 billion in needed water supply projects over the next 50 years. Of that $80 billion, the state may need to underwrite $47 billion in financial assistance.  

In addition to this water supply challenge, the price tag for fixing our aging, deteriorating water and wastewater systems runs north of $80 billion according to EPA estimates.

While voters’ approval of the $1 billion Texas Water Fund in 2023 was a positive step forward for the state’s water infrastructure funding strategy, a more lasting solution – such as a dedicated revenue stream for water infrastructure – will be needed.

The discussion and concerns about water and electric reliability I heard in DFW are shared within and beyond the Texas Triangle. Looking ahead to the next legislative session, these issues will be essential to the on-going deliberations on how to propel the Texas Economic Miracle towards 2036 and beyond.