Laura Huffman: "We Need to Settle the Idea for Texans That We’ll Always Have to Conserve Water"

Since 2008, respect for water resources and water conservation strategies have become direct professional responsibility of Laura Huffman. She is the director of the Texas branch of the Nature Conservancy organization, which deals with conservation of natural resources in the United States. She manages water resources in the difficult region together with city administrations of San Marcos and Austin. And she is preparing a plan of water conservation in Texas for the next 50 years.

If you look at the map , where water-scarce regions of the United States are designated, you will see that for many years Texas has been marked by a bright red color. All global trends in conservation can be practiced right here: we already have all these problems. First, here is a growing population. Now Texas is home to 25 million people, and by 2060 we will be twice as much. Second, urbanization is so rapid here that six of the twenty largest cities in the United States are located in this state, including the three of four fastest growing.

This means that there is a couple of fairly obvious problems with water. First of all, we have a growing number of people who have to share a very limited resource. And second, the cities have completely lost all the ability to provide themselves with water, which means that the problem must be solved at the federal level. Here lies the reason that erupted wars for water in the southern US real.

In addition, Texas is an important state from the perspective of agriculture. And 60% of water which is being consumed here goes for irrigation of various food crops. Energy network of the state is almost completely isolated, and the destiny of the state electricity supply is entirely in our hands. This is very important because the water is an expensive and an important component in the production of electricity. So we have here a real tangle of complex problems.

And that's what I think is very, very important. Problems with water are the problems of local and federal levels simultaneously. Not so much water users have the ability to solve their problems with water supply, using the resources of only their city or community. Therefore, a 50-years plan of Texas will solve three important issues. And I think that, if we succeed, we will even become world leaders in solving problems of water-scarce regions.

It is important to understand the potential of water saving not as a new fashioned fun, but as a source of water supply. And to attract investments for it. One-third of all the money we'll spend for identifying the most problematic categories of water users - city, agriculture, energy companies and industry. Up to a quarter of the water supply of the future is the result of water conservation today. I run an organization dedicated to conservation of resources, and I am confident that we are on the right way.

The plan itself, meanwhile, is as follows. It is time for the cities to choose a truly effective projects providing the population with water and to begin implementing them. It is necessary to consider all the factors: the cost of implementation, reliability and environmental impact. You have to choose from the following options: surface water sources, underground sources, desalination plants, tanks collecting rainwater.

The plan, which is also important, will be updated every five years. Here in Austin, it seems for everyone that the city will survive for decades until we have to look for alternative sources of supply. But the drought shows us that we do not have these years, and we will be faced with problems much earlier.

In El Paso, a long time ago the program of water metering for each household was launched. And it was understood that as soon as the water resource becomes limited people become witty. They've built a desalination plant, and it is basic and quite expensive source of water in El Paso. And you know, no one suffers from the lack of grass on the lawn, when he realizes that their future and that of their children is on the other scale.

In San Antonio there was a program of development of underground water sources, which has conceived wildest success. Clean water is also stored under ground, which is much more efficient: there it does not evaporate. Aquifers are all over Texas, and it can be an important source of water with the right approach to its careful exploitation.

There is another fairly non-obvious problem, companies that are engaged in hydraulic fracturing. About five years ago all these companies used fresh water. Nowadays, however, it is a luxury, and they are all switched to seawater. It suits us, because sea water can not be used, for example, in agriculture it is too salty, and it will kill the crop. And the city can not use sea water as the main source of water supply as it is too expensive, and in addition, at the end of the desalination process by-products appear.

But there's no difference for fracturing whether it is fresh or salt water. And this source of water is definitely underestimated in Texas. By the way, technology is not standing still, and soon fracturing will don't even need the salt water: now there are methods of dry fracturing. Naturally, we keep track of all such inventions.

I think that the growing awareness of people about respect for the water is the result not only of our business; it is a side effect of drought. I was a bit worried because some grown rainfall can bring thoughts that the drought is over. Here in Austin we had a couple of very rainy weekends, and the level of water in our lake has grown by as much as a 1% - from 32 to 33% of the total volume. It is important to remember that our record drought was in 1950 when 10 million here lived here. And now we have 25 million in Texas, and the ability to get out of the dry period without losses is much lower.

Our biggest job is to be aimed at mass consciousness, especially when more rainy years than earlier are going to come. We have to convince people to change their habits. And we'll have to work with all groups of consumers - with the townspeople, and farmers, and industrialists, and people from energetics. Because now they perceive the need to conserve water as the emergency measures in the drought, and when it starts to rain again, it will be possible to go back to old habits. I think we should settle in their minds the idea that Texans will always have to save water.

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