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Creative solutions to meeting water supply needs in a drought-stricken region

Rep Bill CallegariNecessity is the mother of invention.  The origin of this phrase is often attributed Plato and often disputed.  But the truth of its meaning cannot be denied, especially when it comes to meeting water supply needs in the American Southwest.

Texas Representative Bill Callegari (R–Katy) wrote an opinion for the Houston Chronicle discussing the various means being employed to meet water supply needs in Texas under persisting drought.  With reservoirs evaporating and well drying up, gone are the Cold War-era strategies of building reservoirs and transporting water from the eastern part of the state.

In the new millennium the state is looking at conservation, direct reuse of water and desalination of both brackish groundwater and seawater.

While Rep. Callegari focuses on the Lone Star state, Texas is not alone in seeking creative solutions to the very serious problem of meeting water supply needs.

Arizona and California are engaging similar strategies.  In January, Arizona released Arizona’s Next Century: A Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability, which outlines the strategies the state can pursue to meet future water supply needs, including changes to the administration and management of existing resources, increased recycling and reuse of water and desalination of brackish groundwater—and seawater.  The later would require complex exchange and/or wheeling agreements making it a particularly creative solution for the land-locked state of Arizona.  California, on the other hand, has a vast coastline and is taking advantage it with 21 coastal desalination projects either proposed or in operation.  Regional and local agencies are looking to conjunctive use projects and water recycling and reuse; a solar-powered brackish water desalination unit has enjoyed a successful pilot run at Panoche Water and Drainage District; and a farmer near Bakersfield is using a newly-developed reverse osmosis system to desalinate water from a dormant brackish aquifer.  In Nevada, the Southern Nevada Water Authority—which has little native water resources—is drilling a third intake to insure that the region still has a supply of water as the elevation of Lake Mead drops.  The oasis Las Vegas strip runs heavily on recycled water.  SNWA also continues to pursue its hotly contested plan to pipe water in from the eastern part of the state and runs a proactive conservation program.

Meanwhile, the Upper Basin States are focusing primarily on administration and management of water resources.  Colorado, which has a projected gap between supply and demand that could exceed 500,000 AF per year, is in the midst of developing the Colorado Water Plan with input from all stakeholders.  New Mexico is reviewing and revamping its state water plan.  Utah is looking to maximize use of its share of the Colorado River—and the current drought is helping to push along the Lake Powell Pipeline.  Wyoming has just completed a hydrogeologic study of the Laramie County area in order to inform management of groundwater resources there.

Written by Marta Weismann