Ron Kaiser, the chair of the Texas A&M University Water Program and a longtime expert in Texas water policy, addressed the law school March 19 as part of the Energy Center’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
In a far-reaching but deeply informed talk, Kaiser said that the current water debate is skewed because the infrastructure industry has convinced state planners to request more new projects than are genuinely needed.
He said that Texas has ample water supplies – in the form of brackish groundwater – but that pumping and treating such supplies is at this point prohitively expensive. At the same time, existing surface and groundwater are underpriced, discouraging conservation. For models of conservation, he suggested cities around the state could look to the practices that El Paso and San Antonio have implemented over the last twenty years and the rate structure that Santa Fe has adopted.
Given the hydrology of Texas, Kaiser said, the state should avoid building new reservoirs west of the 100th meridian, where most impounded water would be lost to evaporation, and should instead focus its infrastructure efforts on comparatively humid and water-rich East Texas. And while East Texas has historically been concerned the economic losses it would suffer if it exported water to the the I-35 corridor, the state could incorporate economic development surcharges into water transactions that allow regions like East Texas to benefit from the sale of their resources.