Testimony: Texas could face long-term water supply deficit

The following testimony by Senior Policy Advisor Jeremy Mazur was given May 15, 2024, to the Senate Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs Committee on the interim charge to study the reliability of the state’s water systems.

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, my name is Jeremy Mazur, and I am a Senior Policy Advisor for Texas 2036. Thank you for this opportunity to offer comments on this interim charge on water system reliability.

Texas’ Water Supply Deficit

The State Water Plan prepared by the Texas Water Development Board projects that Texas faces a long-term water supply deficit of 6.9 million acre-feet in 50 years if we do not expand our water supply portfolio and are hit by another long, severe drought.

The reason for this potential deficit is simple: we live in a drought-prone state where our population will grow as our available water supplies diminish.

I’d like to discuss two factors that could aggravate this water supply deficit.

On Population Growth

First, we know that Texas’ population is projected to grow significantly over the next 50 years. A larger state population, combined with expanded economic activity, will increase and accelerate the demand for more water supplies.

Our data suggests that the path that our state’s energy sector takes could significantly affect the rates of population growth.

Earlier this year, Texas 2036 released a study modeling how different energy pathways could affect state demographics, economic growth, and energy production. These pathways include a renewable-heavy energy transition, a more aggressive use of oil and gas, and an “all of the above” energy expansion.

What we found was that an “all-of-the-above” energy expansion policy would contribute to greater levels of population growth by year 2050 when compared to other energy future scenarios. This is due to lower wholesale electricity prices, increased oil and gas production, and more energy exports fostering greater economic activity that, in turn, leads to higher population growth.

I say this to highlight the fact that the growth and evolution of our energy sector could both accelerate and heighten the long-term demands for additional water supplies.

Future Droughts

Then there is the issue of drought and what it means for our future water supplies. Looking back in history, we know from paleoclimatic records that Texas endured droughts that were longer and more severe than the Drought of Record of the 1950s. These occurred during the 19th century between the time of the Texas Revolution and the Civil War and in the early 18th century.

Last month, Texas 2036 and the Office of the State Climatologist at Texas A&M University released an updated report on observed and projected extreme weather trends.

While the report does not make any specific predictions, it does project “increased drought severity” due to warmer temperatures and greater rainfall variability. This rainfall variability will contribute to more erratic runoff into our surface water resources. On top of this, warmer temperatures will increase the rate of summertime evaporative losses from our lakes and reservoirs by 7 percent.

The good news here is that the Legislature recently gave regional water planners the green light to plan for droughts worse than the Drought of Record of the 1950s.

The bad news here is that the famous saying that “Texas is the land of perpetual drought, visited by the occasional biblical flood” will continue to hold true, with the prospects of future droughts being worse.

I should add that we are working on another study with the State Climatologist of how greater rainfall variability combined with warmer temperatures will affect surface water availability. We plan to release that report by this summer.

The Economic Impact

The data suggests that Texas’ water supply challenges will certainly grow in the coming decades. Simply put, we will need a broad, diversified water supply portfolio in order to prepare for the challenges ahead. This is in addition to the other — but somewhat related — challenge of fixing our aging, deteriorating, and leaking water and wastewater systems.

The long-term solution here involves state and local investment in water infrastructure, including water supply projects. The state water plan already includes forecasts of what the economic consequences will be if we don’t develop the water supplies needed for the next big drought. There will be GDP loss, jobs gone, and people will leave Texas for elsewhere.

If we were to invert this problem, we recognize that investment in water infrastructure supports continued economic growth and development. We’re looking closer at this issue at Texas 2036. This summer we plan to release another report that describes the economic benefits of water infrastructure investment. This includes how much GDP and job growth would be supported through state investments in new water supplies.

Of course, I plan on sharing these findings with the committee when the report is complete. With that, I close, and welcome any questions you may have.