In the last 30 years, Hays County population increased from 40,594 (in 1980) to over 157,000 (in 2010), making it one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. Others want to come to this area for the same reasons that drew you and me to the Texas Hill Country. I lived in Central Texas during the Drought of the Fifties. We lost our farms, ranches, crops and livestock. We hauled water as our alluvial wells ran dry and our cattle died. Drought is very personal to me and my family because we barely survived the depressing drought. The Dust Bowl of the Depression Era forced my family to move to Central Texas from West Texas. The drought of the Fifties forced us into town to survive. Currently, my well in the Trinity Aquifer is about dry and is pumping sand. Luckily we have had enough rain to fill my rainwater collection tanks so I have water.
The Hays County Commissioners Court’s recent action to secure water from the Simsboro aquifer, one of the most reliable water sources in Central Texas, culminates a three-year process to address a serious issue. This water reservation represents an insurance policy for the future of Hays County and its citizens. Hays County is on its own to provide opportunity for water for our citizens. The State has failed to act. The Federal Government has failed to act. Surely no one would deny that we are in a drought of record and that our water resources are diminishing on a daily basis. My inquiries to regional weather experts reveal that the weather patterns in Texas have changed so that we are not receiving the torrential storms that usually refill our reservoirs and aquifers. Texas has always had either drought or flood. Central Texas lies at the eastern edge of the Great Western Desert and desertification is encroaching at an alarming rate. We have lost many of our native trees and our springs, creeks, rivers and estuaries are at grave risk.
The population of Texas is expected to increase over 80 percent in the next 50 years. This growth, periodic severe drought conditions, and limited alternative water supply options have noticeably impacted available groundwater supplies. According to the 2012 State Water Plan, “If Texas does not implement new water management strategies, then homes, businesses, and agricultural enterprises throughout the State are projected to need 8.3 million acre-feet of additional water supply by 2060.” Economic models predict annual economic losses could reach approximately 11.9 Billion dollars if drought conditions continue and water supply needs are not met.
I will not let this drought change the lives of Hays County folks without my best efforts to secure water for their present and future. Drought is hard on our citizens, especially those living on lower and fixed incomes as they struggle to pay ever increasing water bills. Farming and ranching will cease without water to grow food and raise livestock. Land values will plummet as land without water is worthless. Fewer people will have to pay more taxes to maintain the same level of services. Water rationing means that there is not enough water for the people who are already living in Hays County. With the predicted growth rate of Hays County, we will have to ration or curtail water usage as a way of life; it will no longer be a temporary inconvenience during certain summer seasons. Intelligent people prepare for a known crisis as best they can and all data points to a looming crisis that requires immediate action. The crisis can be averted by decisive cooperation among regional cities and counties.
This is Texas and we take bold action to solve major problems. It has become increasingly clear that, in the near future, any available water will be sold to Travis or Bexar County or to private water purveyors who will control our water. We either reserve water in the name of Hays County now or, in the future, we will be forced to buy our water from private companies at whatever price they demand. It is my goal to keep the availability and cost of water in the hands of the public.
A journey of a million miles begins with a single step. The acquisition of additional water resources is but a first step in a long process to solve the water needs of the Central Texas Region. We will work with anyone interested in solving the water crisis for Central Texas. I hope and pray that it rains and additional water will not be needed. The facts speak volumes about the prudent provision for present and future water that our recent efforts represent. Texans can no longer afford to waste water. The “plan” is to gather interested parties to promote conservation, rainwater collection, re-use of gray water and effluents, the planting of native species of drought-tolerant trees and plants, and regional participation and planning that will provide water sufficient for Central Texas and Hays County. For these many reasons, I humbly ask for your support in our efforts.
BERT COBB, M.D.
Hays County Judge