Nearly two decades ago, the state’s water planning process brought to light a frightening fact: by the year 2050, the State of Texas will not have enough water to meet the needs of everyone living within its borders unless additional water supplies are developed.
With a mandate from the state to find new water resources, the 16 water planning regions studied, among other things, options for building new reservoirs. These studies uncovered common hurdles to reservoir development, including: a lack of suitable locations with land availability and a resounding response of “not in my back yard!” from residents.
In light of this critical shortfall, the Brazos River Authority Board of Directors recognized the need to increase water supplies and assigned staff the responsibility of researching new ways to more efficiently use the water already available in our current system of reservoirs.
Staff, along with consulting engineers and hydrologists, brainstormed the issue, in search of viable alternatives. After a great deal of research it was determined, using advanced water availability modeling, there was actually more water that could be made available within the Brazos River basin than BRA’s existing water rights allowed. By utilizing the water collectively within our 11-reservoir system in concert with runoff downstream, and accounting for water being returned into the river from treatment plants, more supply might be utilized. This plan provides for additional water resources, without having to construct heavy infrastructure such as dams, reservoirs, and pipelines. From this, the idea for the Brazos River Authority’s System Operation Permit was formed.
The BRA filed a permit application with the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality in 2004. It was the first of its kind for the state and one that was expected to receive a great deal of scrutiny. In light of the innovative nature of this application, the BRA Board of Directors and staff anticipated the permitting process to be thorough and painstaking; however, at the same time, we had hoped to obtain a permit to provide additional water supply for the Brazos basin within 3 to 5 years.
The BRA worked with TCEQ, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and numerous other organizations and agencies to address the many questions, concerns and doubts raised by the System Operation Permit. Two different hearings, involving a variety of interests, also thoroughly debated the merits of all elements of the Permit.
Finally, in August 2016, TCEQ issued the final permit. The permit was issued with a requirement for a study to determine whether the 2011 – 2015 drought was a new drought of record for the Brazos river basin, and if so, to determine the impacts on the amount of water authorized for use under the permit. The results of the drought study may change the amount of water ultimately authorized by the permit; however, the BRA still expects that a significant quantity of additional water may soon be made available to entities on the BRA’s waiting list.
The System Operation Permit will not be able to satisfy all of the requests for water that are currently on hand. Therefore, looking further into the future, the BRA is preparing to move forward with our next water supply project. Allens Creek Reservoir, a proposed off-channel water supply facility, has been in the planning process since the early 1970s. For this project, two of the three requirements to build a reservoir in Texas have been obtained: the purchase of land and a permit from the state. The remaining prerequisite, a federal 404 Permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers, requires numerous studies and the opportunity for public comment. We hope to update you on the progress of these studies in 2017, as we move toward the construction of the first major reservoir in the Brazos River basin since the late 1970s.
Whether building a reservoir or permitting water that modeling shows is already available, water development initiatives are both time-consuming and expensive; however, as our planning process has shown us, these efforts are necessary for the future of Texas.