According to information updated weekly by the U.S. Drought Monitor, the majority of Texas is experiencing drought conditions ranging from “moderate” to “exceptional.”
It’s similar to the well-publicized situation seen in neighboring New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Water issues could impact areas of future residential and commercial expansion across Texas. Even developments envisioned in areas not designated as high-risk are being affected.
The city of Magnolia northwest of Houston passed a four-month moratorium on new residential and commercial development in late 2022, with an option to expand it further if necessary. Engineers engaged by the city determined although new wells are under construction for later this year, the city’s water system lacks the capacity to support further development at this time.
Suburban growth in Texas is usually sprawling in nature. However, Magnolia’s issues have more to do with density, according to Adam Perdue of Texas A&M University’s Texas Real Estate Research Center.
Perdue told local media Magnolia seems to have been overwhelmed by rapid and increasingly dense development.
“Before this, most of the development around there was kind of large-lot that probably took some time to actually be adding demand. But these new developments are 100 or more homes (and) kind of hitting all at once.”
However, Magnolia is not located in an area identified as having any current drought issues. Demand is simply greater than available supply.
Rapid growth and development is creating a water problem everywhere in Texas, write Jennifer Walker, director of the Texas Coast and Water Program at the National Wildlife Federation, and Suzanne Scott, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Texas.
In an opinion piece published recently in the Austin-American Statesman, they write, “Growth is taking its toll on the state’s finite and fragile water resources. Groundwater, which supplies most of our state’s drinking water, is now being extracted at twice the sustainable rate and less than two per cent of Texas streams remain free of significant chemicals from wastewater discharge.”
It’s not only water for personal consumption that puts demand on the state’s resources. Master Planned Communities (MPCs) announced across Texas often present water as a recreational and visual enticement for prospective homebuyers.
For example, developers of a 183-acre single family home development in Waller, not far from Magnolia, confirmed to the Daily Commercial News that plans call for a 28.5 acre manmade lake, now under excavation, surrounded by trails and park.
“Texas is the master of master-planned communities,” says realty website neighbors.com. “These communities attract singles, families and retirees with their variety of amenities, from splash pads to five-star golf courses.”
Golf courses can consume water in the millions of gallons per year, a level of consumption that can strain an area’s water system.
An 800-acre golf course near the city of Dripping Springs, west of Austin, is using almost 650,000 gallons of drinking water daily, sourced from the city’s water supply. Over the past two years, it has reportedly consumed 190 million gallons, raising the ire of local residents. That’s despite trucking in 100,000 gallons of treated wastewater each week.
It’s worth noting Dripping Springs is located in Hays County, an area identified as having drought conditions ranging from “severe” to “exceptional.”
The increased popularity of water parks in Texas might also appear at first to put further strain on local water resources. However, water park managers claim that after initial filling, only about two per cent needs to be replaced on a monthly basis due to evaporation, a fraction of what golf courses consume.
Recycled treated water is also used in many instances. For example, the Schlitterbahn Park in Galveston reportedly recaptures, filters and reuses 97 per cent of the 3.5 million gallons needed to keep its 31 slides, chutes, rides and rivers running.
Walker and Scott are asking governments to make “a generational investment in Texas’ fragile water infrastructure” in order to meet the forecast demand for water as the state continues to grow.
“Lawmakers can ensure maximum drawdown of federal funds by appropriating the required state match.”
They also call on funding to support more scientific study, investment in habitat restoration, green infrastructure and land conservation, and increased authority for fast-growing regions, “to put in place modern and protective building codes, establish drainage utilities and assess drainage fees. With undeveloped land fast disappearing, it’s time for a bold vision from the Capitol.”