Thursday, September 14, 2006

Water Planning

Tuesday evening the Texas Water Development Board hosted a meeting at San Angelo's Convention Center to present its current plans for long range water planning and to take public comment on the subject. While the Standard-Times did a front page report on the meeting, there was precious little advance notice, two Community Calendar notices, and attendance was sparse. In that this Board is considering water development proposals for the next fifty years, this was disappointing. I will say those who noticed and attended, including one gentleman all the way from Midland, were remarkably well informed. Between the books provided gratis by TWDB and the comments, this meeting was well worth the time.

This is the Texas Board responsible for the Region F Water Study Report, which I have referenced in earlier articles here. I did comment, suggesting we at least actively explore a regional water “grid”, not unlike the connectivity familiar to us in electric power distribution. The Region F study in Chapter 4.3.11. “Strategies for Hickory Aquifer Users” has been advanced by the Region F group since the 2001 edition, but has not gained traction due to the expense to the under-populated smaller users. It is not something that will generate a positive economic return in the short term, but the planning being discussed is for a fifty year term.

In my opinion as expressed earlier here, here and here. San Angelo would be remiss if we let this opportunity pass to explore seriously a regional water supply/use solution for the long term. Too often in the past we have cost ourselves money and options by waiting until the crisis was upon us.

Central to my thinking on this is recognizing that water mains, like electric lines, flow in either direction. Thanks to Representative Campbell's work in the Legislature, we have a jump start on developing a desalination/brackish water field nearby with nearly unlimited long term supply potential. At this point in time, neither that source nor a regional grid is economically competitive with current local water rates, but again, we are looking 50 years out. I make a living servicing oil wells that were were not very attractive at $30 Bbl crude prices.

San Angelo was well represented in the Region F Group, and our incoming State Representative Drew Darby has chaired our local Water Advisory Board. The issue is obviously taken seriously.
My vision here is a water grid centered on San Angelo and going west until we bump into Midland/Ector County region and going east to Eden and Brady. If that seems expansive, this is all area with economic impact on San Angelo. These people trade with us, shop here, and we contribute in both directions to one another. In many ways our water future is already inextricably bound together, like it or not. Absent a regional plan, the Region F recommendation for many of these smaller users is, and I quote, “bottled water”. In municipal terms this means central kiosks where residents would fill 5 gallon containers of water, water most likely bought and trucked from San Angelo.

Better we should plan to make lemonade from lemons than to wait until circumstances leave us fewer and poorer options. San Angelo would have to overcome its deserved image as a “water bully” and make nice with our smaller partners, bargain in good faith rather than throw our weight around.

If a water distribution system sounds unreasonably expensive for any potential return, think of the old Tennessee Valley Authority or the now renamed REA electric grid. Long before anyone saw commercial viability in extending power to these blighted areas, these quasi-governmental creations lit up the night and created economic growth beyond their own dreams. Even the federal government gets it right once in a while, and water is at least as critical to growth as electricity.

To conclude, like my idea or hate it, the public comment period on TWDB's plan is open until October 6. Comments to this Blog will be forwarded or you can send them directly to I can think of nothing more important to the future of San Angelo and our part of West Texas. Please take the time to share your thoughts on this vital issue.


  1. I also think the water issue is critical to San Angelo and West Texas. While I think it is very important to research wells and other natural sources of water, I think the city should also research the use of filtered grey water and collection of rain water for distribution to areas in the city for landscape use.

    Currently we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars filtering and cleaning grey water so it can be put on city farms. While this is a good use of "black water", the "grey water" could be utilized by the Citizens.

    Other cities like Midland are using this for landscape irrigation and charge less for this water that what is paid for the drinking water. It is my understanding that citizens who provide grey water in separate lines also gain benefits from lower sewer bills. This could be a win/win situation for the city in the future, but development of this system needs to start now.

    We also need to put in reclamation ponds and systems to trap rain water so it can be used in irrigation systems. Many cities in the state require reclamation or detention ponds with the water used to water the local parks, green areas, and private land. This is a viable source of water for landscape use, or could even be sent in the canals for use by the farmers.

    San Angelo has lagged behind regarding water and should be a leader. We will NEVER have enough water unless we consider alternative sources and plan for this use.

  2. I agree with nearly everything in this comment, would have covered some of it but for lack of space.

    When I lived far out of town, our plumbing, like many neighbors', sent sink and washer outflow down a plastic pipe to the garden, black water to the septic tank.

    Scaling up this very old private initiative to municipal/corporate level is, as you point out, already underway, and should rightly become a no-brainer part of water strategy.

    I hope you will forward the comment here to TWDB. That will reqire a name, but nothing in your comment is so controversial as to require anonymity. I hope you chose that option for ease of access. Believe me, with the limited response seen so far, every comment counts.

  3. While the idea of capturing rain water and utilizing grey water is a great idea, i do not see how enough could be harvested to supply farmers. The city uses (and often wastes) ALOT of water watering the parks and other attractions like the visitors center. The ammount of water that would need to be captured to supply farmers would be tremendous.

    As for the grey water that is processed at the treatment plant - none of it is being used to irrigate the City Farm. The city spent $20 million to build a pipline to pump water up hill to an irrigation canal that serves an irrigation district around Veribest where the Public Works director Will Wilde, and his family just happen to own many farms. This irrigation district receives all of the city waste water for FREE, despite the cost of the pipeline, despite the cost of chlorinating the water before being pumped up hill, and despite the cost of dechloriation at the end of the canal to make the water suitable for the crops once it gets there.

    Not only is this a ridiculous expense incurred by the city, but a tremendouS waste of water resources.

    If the water were applied at the city farm (where the city spent many more millions of dollars on 46 pivot systems for the purpose of distrubting the waste water on the city farm lands) the costs of getting the waste waste to the irrigation district would not be incurred and the water would not be moved out of the Concho river watershed and largely lost to evaporation.

    When the water is applied at the City Farm, springs along the Concho are fed, which keeps the water flowing to it's original source: Lake Ivy. This keeps the water circulating in a system. (As long as farmers along the way don't pump all the water out of the river - a practice which the city itself makes great contributions to on some of it's farms...)

    The current practice with the waste water could be likened to having a drain open in a tub with the water continuosly left on. If the leaders around here are concerned about water, this should be the first problem we should fix.

    Part of the water planning solution should involve replinishing the primary source from which we take the water from (Ivy), clearing mesquite along the Concho that heads to Ivy, riparian buffer zones along the river, creeks and streams heading towards Ivy to preserve the watershed system that our regional water supply depends on, as well as a shift to dry land farming or ranching in the entire area.

    Maybe we should also be asking why the city owns over 10,000 acres of farm land anyway?!!! Part of their stratigy is to acquire every bit of land that lines the Concho from here to Ivy - Drew Darby even once suggested at a COSADC meeting that they could use imminent domain to procure the rest!

    This is not a solution befitting to the ideals that our forefathers founded this country on.

    The city first and foremost needs to cease wasting millions and millions of gallons of treated wastewater, as they also need to begin setting an example and practicing conservation in town, harvisting rain water and grey water from public buildings and using these resources to conservatively water public lands in town (not the city streets). THe grey water should be captured IN TOWN - not afterwards at the treatment plant where what the city actually does with the water is kept out of sight from the Citizens.

    Then we need to begin a dialouge with farmers and property owners on Lake Nasworthy, Dove Creek, Spring Creek, and the Concho in and out of town, about how irrigation is helping to diminish our water resources.