by Martie Cenkci
Southwestern Division Public Affairs
The cycles of drought and flooding that have defined Texas and much of the southwest over the years have presented many challenges in water management, all intensified by the large gains in population and industry that the area has seen. With 28 reservoirs in Texas with storage set aside for water supply, and 74 multipurpose water reservoirs within the region, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Southwestern Division has been in the forefront, working with state and local governments and other stakeholders to ensure they are able to meet the water needs of the area. SWD participated in the Texas Water Conservation Organization’s Mid-Year Conference in Galveston, Texas, June 19-21 to discuss its role in water management and efforts to build a resilient and reliable portfolio that meets the current and future water resources needs for the region.
Robert Slockbower, director of Programs for SWD, briefed the General Session on SWD’s initiatives within the state of Texas, with an emphasis on the Infrastructure Strategy for the future.
“With our current budget constraints, as well as the possibility of reduced budgets in the coming years, we have a concern about the potential impact on our region, its water needs, and our economy if the existing Corps reservoirs are not reliable for the long term,” Slockbower said. “So we have initiated an Infrastructure Strategy that is based on collaboration with our customers to ensure we understand their priorities.”
Slockbower said that SWD is addressing levels of service and efficiencies in operations to identify potential funding gaps in order for the state water providers to have a complete understanding of the future infrastructure needs of the region. “We are looking at this as a priority at the regional level, and we need to know what the customers’ priorities and needs are. This will provide us the information we need to try and align our authorities and funding to assist in those areas where we can.”
Water supply is one of three priorities in the SWD Infrastructure Strategy, and it faces many challenges, including the results of two recent court cases. One case would have forced Oklahoma to sell water to Texas, and another case invalidated provisions in the State Water Plan associated with the Dallas-Fort Worth region efforts to transfer water from northeast Texas. These water supply issues affect SWD because of its role in the region with 74 multi-purposed water reservoirs in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, said Slockbower.
To overcome these challenges, SWD has partnered with the Texas Water Development Board, Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Kansas Water Office to identify ways in which these agencies can leverage resources with the Corps to identify funding opportunities, integrate planning processes, and identify opportunities to ensure long-term sustainability of the regions reservoirs.
The Texas Water Conservation Association is the leading organization in Texas devoted to conserving, developing, protecting, and using the water resources of the state for all beneficial purposes, and the Corps has a long relationship with the organization.
“The purpose for our participation in the Mid-Year Conference is that TWCA is the state organization set up for the education of water providers across Texas.” Slockbower said. “It provides the opportunity for us to learn about the issues and concerns that are driving their plans to stay ahead of the water supply needs of the state. We participate with similar organizations in the other states in our region, all focused on developing the best solutions for water supply in the region.”
The 74 multipurpose water reservoirs in the region hold more than 8.4 million acre feet of storage, which equates to 20 percent of the surface water supplies in Kansas, 36 percent in Texas, and 35 percent in Oklahoma. This is enough water to support the needs of more than six million individuals, which are almost two million households in the region. An “acre foot” is a water measurement that measures the volume of one acre of surface area to a depth of one foot.
As a regional initiative, SWD established partnerships with the Texas Water Development Board, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, and the Kansas Water Office to identify ways to leverage resources. This included the establishment of a charter based on these principles:
· Working together to improve communication and collaboration
· Looking for opportunities to integrate planning processes
· Identifying opportunities to ensure the long term sustainability, and the best use of the existing federal reservoirs
· Identifying funding opportunities and authorities for water planning and the implementation of State water plans
With the State Legislature establishing the $2 billion Infrastructure Fund in the State of Texas, there is a need to ensure an understanding of the challenges water providers may find in meeting the requirements found in the Corps’ Regulatory Program, according to Slockbower.
“Water providers face challenges in three areas,” he said. “The major challenge is ensuring water providers have a full and consistent understanding of the scope and breadth of studies that are required to move a strategy to implementation in the State Water Plan. The second challenge is the need to avoid the transfer of potentially damaging invasive species, such as the Zebra Mussel. The third challenge is the process for mitigating environmental impacts associated with large water resources project, which may require large quantities of mitigation. Water providers must understand that developing these plans can be time consuming and costly.”
The Corps is working with TWCA’s Federal Affairs Committee to host the Reservoir Infrastructure Future Visions Sessions in August. This will be one of the key topics for the Committee at the TWCA Conference.
“We must work together to solve the challenges we face in water supply in this region,” Slockbower said. “By working with organizations such as TWCA, we can ensure that we obtain a true perspective of the priorities and challenges of our water supply customers.”