Water Program

“Texas needs to invest in better water infrastructure. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, $42 billion will need to be spent in the next twenty years to upgrade stormwater controls in the U.S. A fair share of that will be spent in Texas, where the engineers awarded grades of C- and D for wastewater and flood control, respectively.”

-Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas Research and Policy Center

Through both drought and rain, water remains the most critical natural resource challenge in the state of Texas. Texas’s growing, and increasingly urban, population means that the state’s already over allocated rivers will be placed under increasing stress in the coming years. The goal of the Water Program at the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation is to ensure adequate water supplies for the environment in Texas. 

In order to achieve this goal, CGMF prioritized four initiatives in 2015: to address Texas water grand challenges, or the particularly perplexing, unanswered questions about water policy that leaders tend to avoid; to increase urban water conservation; to protect water resources in the Hill Country; and to design and promote water-energy integrated utility models. This was CGMF’s sixth year of program funding in this area. 

Although many of the most difficult issues surrounding water management in Texas remain unaddressed, 2015 saw a huge win for Texas water. In mid-July, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved nearly $4 billion in financing for the first round of projects under the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) to increase water supplies across Texas. The 32 approved projects range from transmission pipelines to desalination plants and include three conservation projects. By law, the Board must spend 20 percent of SWIFT funds on conservation or reuse plans over the next five years. 

The inclusion of the conservation threshold is in part due to the efforts of several CGMF partners, including Environment Texas Research and Policy Center, Texas Water Foundation, and the Texas Living Waters Project. Throughout the year, Environment Texas has worked to educate the public on the urgency of the water crisis and threats to our rivers and encouraged the TWDB to invest in strategies that would ensure water sustainability in Texas. 

In October, CGMF hosted a two-day workshop on “Accelerating Water Conservation in Texas,” which highlighted the work of several grantees, including a group of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) who are working to increase urban water conservation in Texas. The CMU team has evaluated the costs of deploying water efficient technologies in the residential and commercial sectors. 

Results show that statewide replacement of inefficient toilets, urinals, faucet showerheads, commercial dishwashers, commercial clothes washers, and pre-rinse spray valves could reduce the projected state water deficit by one percent over the next 50 years at a negative net cost to the state. Xeriscaping, cooling water technologies, and more efficient clothes washers and icemakers could raise the water savings total to four percent, but these options are costlier. These results provide decision makers with crucial information about the most cost-effective water conservation strategies in Texas. 

Water transactions are quickly being recognized as a critical tool for protecting and restoring adequate environmental flows from the Texas Hill Country to our bays and estuaries, but there are a number of technical, scientific, economic, social, and legal challenges that remain.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in conjunction with the National Wildlife Federation, Harte Research Institute, the Meadows Center, The Nature Conservancy, and Ducks Unlimited, has created the Environmental Flows Working Group, which aims to preserve 20,000-30,000 acre feet of water through successful water transactions across three targeted bay systems: Tres Palacios/Caranchua Bays, Trinity/Galveston Bays, and Guadalupe/San Antonio Bays. CGMF’s support was a fraction of the total $1.3 million raised by the group to lay the framework for these transactions and tackle several of the scientific and economic challenges. 

The Center for Water-Energy Efficiency at the University of California-Davis (CWEE) is designing and developing data management and analytical tools for estimating and verifying the water and energy savings derived from water conservation programs. With recent support from CGMF, CWEE has partnered with Austin Water. By consolidating a large amount of data from across the Austin water network, CWEE has produced high-resolution estimates of the energy intensity (EI) of water deliveries. More importantly, this work has allowed CWEE to develop a user-friendly and sophisticated web-based platform for EI analysis that can be used by other utilities across the state and beyond. 

With the appointment of Sarah Richards, the foundation’s new Water Program Officer, CGMF remains committed to tackling water management challenges across the state of Texas. 

© 2012-2018 Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.