Wanted: Bigger Water Supply for Houston

The current drought is the third worst in Texas history, and has almost everyone talking about water. But long-term planners say that even after the drought ends, the Houston region will still have water problems. KUHF Health Science and Technology reporter Carrie Feibel has more.

Mary Rhodenbaugh began sounding the alarm about water back in 2007 when she was a Brazoria County Commissioner.

Everyone was rather “ho hum” about it at first, she says, but they’re listening now.

“We are already operating in a shortage mode. We don’t have as much water as we need for our ag industry. And they’re scrambling right now.”

Rhodenbaugh says people falsely assume that after the drought ends, the rivers will flow freely again.

“Even though we’re at the mouth of the Brazos River, they’ve built dams on it and that water is not ever going to get to us. So what are we going to do? We’ve got to do some more rainwater harvesting in reservoirs, we may have to build a reservoir.”

The demand for more water has something to do with household use, and it’s true that Texas’s population is growing.

But energy companies are the biggest consumers of water in the country — they use it to mine oil and gas, and to burn coal.

Glenn Holden sells water technology for Siemens.

“In some of the gas wells, you know, water is used to fracture formation and that water then comes back out of the ground and needs to be treated and recycled rather than disposed of.”

Holden points out that this kind of water use has a double cost—obtaining the water, and then cleaning it up after it’s been dirtied.

After energy companies, the biggest users of water are farmer and ranchers.

What all this means is that a shortage of water could lead to higher energy and food prices. And that could get the attention of consumers and voters.

Cartherine Mosbacher is president of the Center for Houston’s Future.

“We’ve had so much attention on the price of oil, and the truth is the price of water is that issue that’s just bubbling up under the surface.”

More expensive water could force both residents and businesses to work on conservation and to re-think consumption.

But many planners say we shouldn’t wait that long, not if Texas hopes to remain water competitive with other states and keep attracting business.

From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...