If anything good came out of the recent drought it was a heightened awareness that water is a precious and finite resource. Droughts will come and go, as will the strain they put on Texans’ water supplies. But as the state’s population grows we are going to have to find new sources of water. That’s where the State Water Plan comes in.

According to the Texas Water Development Board, between 2010 and 2060 Texas’ population is expected to jump by 82 percent, from 25.4 million people to 46.3 million. At the same time, the state’s water supply is likely to only grow by about 22 percent, from 18 million acre-feet to 22 million. To supply that growing population, Texas will need an additional 8.3 million acre-feet of water. Failure to meet those needs could lead to the loss in Texas of more than 1 million jobs and nearly $116 billion each year by 2060 according to the board.

As became clear during the recent drought, we Texans can’t always depend on the rain to quench our thirst. We may not be able to change the weather, but through planning, conservation and development of resources we can see that the state’s water needs are fulfilled in the coming years. The 2012 State Water Plan is a template that should allow us to do just that. This latest water plan calls for 562 water supply projects to meet Texas needs during drought. If the entire plan is seen through, Texas should gain an additional 9 million acre-feet of water by 2060.

The water plan has its roots in the devastating drought of the 1950s. Still considered the Texas “drought of record” or worst overall drought in the state’s recorded history, the ‘50s event led to widespread water rationing, damage to countless farms and state financial losses in the hundreds of millions. State officials responded by developing Texas’ first comprehensive water plan in 1961, designed to address needs through 1980.

The template was revised through additional plans created at irregular intervals over the next several years. Then in 1997, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, which updated the process requiring the plan to be reworked every five years. SB 1, signed by then-Gov. George W. Bush, also reworked the planning process to make it a more regional, “bottom up” approach. The law divided Texas into 16 planning areas, each with a Regional Water Planning Group.

The Brazos River basin includes parts of three of these planning areas: Region O, including the upper basin in the Texas Panhandle; Region G, which extends from the Panhandle across Central Texas to the edge of the Gulf Plains; and Region H, the section of the Gulf Coast area surrounding Houston.

Each regional group includes representatives of local interests, such as the public, agriculture, business, city and county governments, water districts and others. Every five years the regional groups draft proposed regional plans that take into account the water needs and resources of the region as well as actions local officials can take to help meet those needs.

The proposed plan is presented to the public and revised to address comments from everyday Texans. The regional plans are then included in the state plan.

Though it may come as a surprise to some people, many of the proposed reservoirs and other projects included in the 2012 State Water Plan have actually been under consideration for years. Take for instance the planned Allens Creek Reservoir off the Brazos near the Houston area. It is included in the 2012 plan as one of the locations to store the added water for Texas growth by 2060, but it was first permitted back in 1974. Then there is the pipeline proposed to carry water between Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes in Central Texas. Some may think this is a recently developed plan, but it was proposed in 2005.

The 2012 state plan includes several projects in the Brazos basin to help meet water needs. Here are a few of them:

  • Post Reservoir, located near the Garza County community of the same name would provide 27,720 acre-feet of water per year once it is completed in 2030.
  • The Cedar Ridge Reservoir, along the Clear Fork of the Brazos in Throckmorton County, would add 23,380 acre-feet each year to state water supplies by 2020.
  • (Lake) Belton to Stillhouse (Lake) Pipeline would provide 30,000 acre-feet per year of water starting in 2020.
  • A new Brazos River Authority System Operations Permit would provide up to 84,899 acre-feet of water annually in 2060.
  • Allens Creek Reservoir, west of Houston, would provide up to 99,650 acre-feet of water annually by 2060.
  • Four off-channel reservoirs in Brazoria and Fort Bend Counties would collectively provide up to 131,243 acre-feet per year of water in 2060.

Building lakes and pipelines aren’t the only ways the state plan aims to meet future needs. Conservation efforts and water reuse would account for about 34 percent of that 9 million additional acre-feet a year by 2060, compared to 17 percent from major new reservoirs. That means we all will have to do our part in using water wisely to help meet everyone’s needs.

The 2012 plan was adopted by the Texas Water Development Board in late 2011 and has been sent to the governor for implementation. Soon the development of the 2017 five-year plan will begin again at the regional level and the process will continue its cycle.

To learn more about the 2012 State Water Plan and each region’s contribution, please visit the Texas Water Development Board’s Web site, here. You can learn more about easy ways to save water at the Brazos River Authority’s conservation page, here.