Our Future Water: Trends and Challenges

Aug 21, 2014

John Lacy, P.E.

Our Future Water: Trends and Challenges

We all take for granted that water will appear when we turn on the tap. But did you know that much of our water infrastructure is 50-100 years old and at risk of failing with a D grade, according to the ASCE? Unfortunately, repairing or replacing this vital infrastructure all too often gets neglected. So what does this mean for you and me?

Well, there’s an old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Sure, but at what cost? The average U.S. price of tap water is about one penny for five gallons. This is affordable when combined with regular maintenance. However, like saving a little money by avoiding changing the oil in your car, continued neglect will lead to greater cost when you eventually have to “replace the entire engine".

In addition, we are facing a growing population, and with more people moving here and living longer, the greater-Houston area is expected to grow from approximately 6.3 to 9.2 million people by 2040. That means almost 50% more people in our area will likely need water 25 years from now. Unfortunately, state regulations to combat as much as 10 feet of Houston-area subsidence (sinking of the ground due to over-pumping of groundwater) require us to use less groundwater. With less water and more people, the easy answer seems to be that we need more rain. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t get that memo. Over 47% of the country is currently facing drought conditions. Many Texas reservoirs are approaching 30% full, a condition not seen since the 1954-1956 worst drought in Texas recorded history. Whether this is a normal weather cycle, global warming, or El Nino, we need more reliable water in the future. Each new concern causes us to ask what this means for the future.

New pipelines and reservoirs, wastewater reuse, desalination, treatment of contaminated water (such as fracking water), and other technologies are helping to bridge the gap, but water supplies are limited. Public approval of state funding from Proposition 6 is helping reduce the cost of these type of public projects, but it can’t generate new projects. So what can we do? Well, if you made it through this blog, you are already helping do your part to improve public awareness. Don’t take this vital resource for granted. Are aging pipes and subsidence a concern in your community? Do you think recent weather trends are a sign of less rain in the future? What are some ways you have found to save water?

ASCE Infrastructure Report Card.

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