As much as natural gas has reigned supreme as the top commodity for years in North Texas, that spot might one day belong to something as simple as pure water.
Over the past few years extreme drought, coupled with high water usage, has dropped the water table in the Trinity Aquifer more than 80 feet in some places.
“The drought has affected it drastically,” said Bob Patterson, general manager of the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. “In the Trinity Aquifer, on the recharge side, the western part, we’ve seen it drop two to 10 feet. On the eastern side, over near I-35, we’ve seen some drops over 80 feet.”
With counties in central and western Texas forced to import water to keep communities from literally drying out, it’s not far-fetched to see the problem eventually spreading over more and more of the state in years to come. The population continues to grow, and residential water use is the top consumer of water by far in the Trinity Aquifer. It accounts for 60 percent. Agriculture, by contrast, is less than 1 percent.
“Water is becoming one of the most valuable commodities there is,” Patterson said. “People are saying it will be a bigger issue than in Texas than oil has been.”
In order to get a handle on what could one day be an environmental catastrophe, the state water board has ordered a comprehensive 3D modeling done to accurately define the size and content of the Trinity and Woodbine aquifers.
The UTGCD passed a budget Monday that included an additional $200,000 to help with the study. It is joining with several other districts to help pay for the $1.86 million project that’s expected to take three years to finish. It’s one part of the state’s 50-year water plan.
“It’s been mandated by the state that we find hard data on these aquifers,” Patterson said. “All we’ve had in the past is modeling, but no hard data.
“There’s also no good, solid figures on oil and gas usage, agriculture usage or residential usage. We hope this will tell us how to figure out the quantity of water we have in the ground, and one day we hope to do studies on the quality too.”
The district already has 80 monitors in the four-county region. They expect to raise that to 200 in the coming year, which will help calculate the amount of water in the aquifer.
“Just because the water table is 80 feet low at one well, might not have anything to do with the depth of the water table five miles away – that’s why we need this comprehensive study,” Patterson said.
The 50-year plan is expected to cost the state more than $50 billion dollars over the next 50 years.
“That might come to mean additional taxes on bottled water, higher water usage fees, and other things that none of us are going to be too happy about,” Patterson said. “But that’s a lot better than running out of water, and that’s where we are headed.”