An aging water main snapped in Odessa. Drought conditions decimated groundwater supplies to the town of Concan. Millions of Texans lived without water for days when complications from Winter Storm Uri left household taps dry. While Thursday, Oct. 20, marks the eighth annual Imagine a Day Without Water, too many Texans have already been forced to endure this reality.
A toxic mix of drought, extreme weather and failing infrastructure has drained water supplies and inflicted financial damage. Severe drought in a hotter-than-normal summer cost farmers and ranchers over $2 billion in economic losses.
Texans are worried about their water supplies and the condition of their water infrastructure.
Recent polling by Texas 2036 — a nonpartisan policy think tank — found that nearly nine-out-of-ten Texas voters are concerned about their community’s access to water during a drought. In turn, 82 percent agree that the state should increase investments that expand our water supply portfolio to include new reservoirs, desalination plants and water conservation strategies.
But Texans’ water worries go beyond the need for water supplies in a drought-prone state. After stories of catastrophic water system failures in Odessa, Laredo and even Jackson, Mississippi, concern grew around our aging, deteriorating water infrastructure. In fact, our Texas Voter Poll found that 84 percent of voters support the Legislature’s creation of a new fund to fix our broken-down water systems.
Astonishingly, as drought gripped Texas throughout the year, more Texans support fixing our failing infrastructure than building new water supplies. Texans are correct about this investment priority.
The American Society of Civil Engineers awarded our drinking water infrastructure with the lackluster grade of a C- due to aging systems, leaks and neglect. Our wastewater infrastructure rates poorly with a D. Other surveys conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reveal that billions are needed over the next decades to refurbish our dilapidated water systems.
Here’s where Imagine a Day Without Water comes in. This national day of action brings together communities and policymakers to advance greater and more equitable water investments. Given the need — and voters’ interest — to fix known problems with our infrastructure, the Texas Legislature has an opportunity to act when it meets next year.
Thanks to record high sales tax and oil and gas tax revenues, lawmakers will have a projected $27 billion budget revenue surplus. Polling data shows that while voters favor spending this windfall on education, tax relief and the electric grid, they also support investments in water.
Texas voters have already approved a fund for building more water supplies. We can build on this forward-thinking investment strategy by establishing and capitalizing a new fund dedicated to fixing our aging, deteriorating and leaking infrastructure. This fund should be aligned with smart policies oriented towards identifying water systems that are failing or at-risk of failing, forging better outreach to areas with water problems, and structuring regional solutions where communities work together.
Texans have learned hard lessons about what a day without water can be like. It’s a desperate, dirty, miserable experience that ruins economic prosperity and community vitality. As specters of drought and failing infrastructure continue to haunt our state, the opportunity exists during the next legislative session to implement meaningful changes for the betterment of all.