Texas is already running out of water

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“However, if a system is permanently impaired it is also possible that the recovery will not reach prior levels,” Montagna said.

The study shows that the systems around Corpus Christi may already be “permanently degraded,” Montagna said, largely due to a continued lack of fresh water.

Similar problems are widespread along the lower Texas coast. The Rio Grande has not flowed continuously into the Gulf of Mexico since the early 2000s. On the Colorado River, which flows through Austin, officials have kept water releases into coastal wetlands to a minimum in recent years. Jennifer Walker, director of the National Wildlife Foundation's Texas Coasts and Waters Program, called it “critical life support.”

“Water is often negotiated first to meet environmental needs,” Walker said. “Our bays and estuaries are an extremely important part of Texas and they are not something that will be easy to go back and fix.”

In Corpus Christi, a major refining and export hub for Texas shale oil and gas, city officials have imposed restrictions on residents' water use, with further restrictions to be imposed if reservoir levels drop below 30 percent. . But the area's largest industrial water users operate unabated, thanks to a purchasable exemption from drought restrictions for industrial users — $0.25 per 1,000 gallons — passed by the City Council in 2018.

This includes users such as ExxonMobil's giant new plastics plant, which is authorized to use 25 million gallons of water per day – a quarter of the regional summer water demand.

A water resources consultant in Corpus Christi, requesting anonymity to preserve his business relationship with the city, said, “The industry could continue full boring through all these dry phases and the estuary would quickly cut off. ” “I think this is an imminent disaster. They're still trying to recruit all these water-intensive industries along the coast.

Income from the rebate program was to finance the development of seawater desalination plants that would expand regional water supplies and meet the demands of rapidly growing industrial construction. The first plant was planned to begin operations early last year, but it is still mired in challenges and has taken years to come to fruition. Meanwhile, industrial construction continues.

map of texas

Illustration: Paul Horn/Inside Climate News

Central Texas: People and Grass

Two hundred miles inland, the five-county region surrounding the high-tech capital of Austin, Texas, has grown faster than any U.S. metro area for 12 consecutive years. It has no water supply.

In 2022, less water will flow into Austin city reservoirs than ever before, city staff said at a public water task force meeting Tuesday. Last year was only slightly better. The largest reservoir serving Austin, Lake Travis, dropped from about 80 percent full in January 2022 to 38 percent full earlier this year.