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Sid Miller: A New Conversation about Texas Water (9/27/2022)

The Great Texas Water Plan

by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller

After Winter Storm Uri caused mass power outages, widespread misery, and humiliation for our state and our grid, I tasked my team with creating a comprehensive plan to help inform the public and lawmakers about the scope of the challenge and the breadth of the potential solutions.

The result was the Texas P.O.W.E.R. (Proper Oversight, Winterization, and Electricity Reform) Plan.

Many of those recommendations have since become law. Others should be. The grid is certainly more secure, and that work continues.

None-the-less, I’m proud of the contributions my team came up with to improving our electrical grid and helping avert further disruptions.

With the onset of this year’s crippling drought, our farms and ranches have been decimated. Crops continue to fail; livestock is being sold early and our agriculture sector is in crisis. Experts tell us we may be in the midst of another drought similar to the one that rocked Texas in the 1950s.

On top of our agriculture needs, our cities and towns are increasingly struggling to meet their water needs as Texas sets record on population growth. The majority of Texas drinking water comes from groundwater, which is at historically low levels across much of the state.

Considering these challenges, I again asked my team to find solutions. After several weeks they came back to me with discouraging news: the problem is too big, the solutions too expensive, and the scope too broad for a list of particular policies like we created for the Texas P.O.W.E.R. Plan.

Almost every Texas town and county already has a multi-decade water plan. The problem with that is that Texas is a big place and local solutions are limited in terms of scope and resources. Property rights and water rights are longstanding traditions that men have fought and died over.  Many water solutions of the past have failed to take that into account.

Understanding and appreciating that history, I asked my team another question.

How do we bring the full power, efficiency, and creativity of the free market, as well as public and political will, to bear on the Texas water crisis?

America dreamed big when we built the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal, and the interstate highway system. To solve the Texas water problem, we must dream big again.

Water capture, reclamation, desalination, storage, and transport all require massive infrastructure investment from the private and public sectors.

New technologies are transforming wastewater reclamation and desalination across the water-starved Middle East, but only because they have the political will and resources to tackle the problem on a scale sufficient to solve it.

While being your Texas Agriculture Commissioner gives me an important vantage point on this challenge, the Department of Agriculture lacks the authority to initiate such a program. It will require a broad public commitment and leadership from all branches of government, as well as the private sector.

What I can do is start a conversation.

Regardless of how you may feel about the politics around climate change, the reality is that water vulnerability is a real, growing, and an existential threat to Texas and our future.

In a few weeks, the election will be over, but the water crisis will not. Our future depends on getting this right and getting started right now.