As water needs grow, so does the price

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas (KXAN) — Looking at the deep, green water under her feet, Paula DiFonzo edged carefully across the catwalk of the New Braunfels Utilities Water Treatment Plant. Eight million gallons rush through the giant tanks each day.

"The water is being piped in from the Guadalupe River,” DiFonzo explained.

During the drought, water restrictions were in place throughout the city, reminding her of the reports from the late 1980s when the Edwards Aquifer dropped dangerously low. It prompted the construction of the structure where she now stood – something that now provides more than half of the town’s current water supply.

"We needed to be able to diversify our water supply,” she said. “We needed to be able to make sure we could supply our customers."

In the two decades since this water plant opened, the number of customers has gone up tremendously. New Braunfels' population has more than doubled in that time.

Back then, it cost $10 million build the plant. DiFonzo said it would cost $40-50 million today. Many places cannot afford that price tag for such new projects.

The Legislature has made water a top priority this legislative session - even possibly tapping the state’s coveted Rainy Day Fund to help pay for projects like pipelines, plants and desalination.

The latest proposal suggests setting up an account with $2 billion for communities to borrow money then repay with interest.

"Putting in $2 billion or $3 billion of cash to get that going is an idea that has some traction here," said Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock.

It is a plan supported by Republican Rep. Doug Miller, whose home is New Braunfels – which will likely need a second plant in three to five years.

"Small communities that don't have the financial well-being or aren't in a growth area like New Braunfels is will need support from the state,” Miller said.

But state money might be tough, depending on how the budget goes. Many lawmakers want to use that possible funding to restore money cut during the last legislative session.

"This body is more conservative than it was two years ago when it chose to cut $5 billion from education,” said Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. “Trying to predict what they'll do this session is tough."

What makes the most financial sense to DiFonzo would be places nearby working with New Braunfels for the money - a regional effort to stay afloat.

"A lot of challenges going forward, and none of them are inexpensive,” she said. "We have to solve this issue."

The Texas Water Development Board just released new projections for the next 50 years. The state will need to spend $53 billion on water projects to keep up. If it does not, a record drought could cost Texas $116 billion a year, plus a million jobs.

“Damming rivers and draining aquifers can be very harmful to the environment, and we need to exhaust all conservation and efficiency before we spend money on those projects,” Luke Metzger, head of Environment Texas, said in a statement.

Some state leaders say conservation is a way to ease those daunting figures. Ag Commissioner Todd Staples joined the Texas Water Smart coalition Tuesday to discuss solutions to the state's water problem.

"The more water conservation that we have, the more it can delay some of those other projects, and it adds value to the consumer,” Staples said.

He called for increased, voluntary conservation and the need to develop new water sources. Staples also spoke out against any proposed water tax and showed support for a one-time dip into the Rainy Day Fund to battle the ongoing crisis.
 

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