A New Frontier in Texas: Managing and Regulating Brackish Groundwater
Buono, Regina M.; Zodrow, Katherine R.; Alvarez, Pedro J.J.; Li, Qilin
Providing access to clean water is a grand challenge in engineering, and supplying sufficient, clean water is a problem around the globe. This challenge is visible in Texas, where drought coincides with population growth and increases in water demand. The 2012 Texas State Water Plan reports a 2,700 million cubic meters (MCM) gap between fresh water supply and demand in 2010, a number predicted to grow to 3,100 MCM by 2060 if new sources of water are not developed or substantial decreases in demand are not obtained. Due to the inherent political difficulty of decreasing water demand, policy makers and water providers are evaluating new water sources, including wastewater for direct or indirect reuse and brackish groundwater for desalination or direct use. It has been estimated that Texas aquifers contain more than 3,300,000 MCM of brackish groundwater, which, if converted to freshwater, could meet current consumption needs for 150 years, albeit at a greater water treatment cost. Using Texas as a case study, this article addresses which policies are desirable to best manage the supply of brackish groundwater. We review the geological, technical, and legal contexts of groundwater in Texas and situate brackish groundwater within those constructs. We consider efforts by other U.S. states to regulate brackish groundwater and identify desirable goals for its management, including facilitating access to and incentivizing use of brackish groundwater and protecting fresh water aquifers from potential saline intrusion related to brackish groundwater production. Various brackish groundwater policies are examined, and policy recommendations regarding use of the resource are offered.