As a part of my activities with the 98th Meridian Foundation I recently attended a couple of events. The first event was the West Texas Legislative Summit in San Angelo. This year the summit was focused on Federal issues relating to energy, transportation and agriculture. With a slight rearranging of categories – combining energy and transportation into one category and dividing agriculture into the separate components of land and water – we come back to the three legs of the stool the 98th Meridian Foundation refers to as making up the backbone of the Texas Economy: water, land and energy.
I also attended the 2019 Farm & Food Leadership Conference in San Marcos. As you would expect from a Food & Farm Conference, land and water issues were front and center. While energy issues were not as prominent, they were certainly relevant. One of the goals of the 98th Meridian Foundation is to provide information, education and research to improve the economy and life of small town and rural Texas.
There were several bills that were passed by the Texas Legislature this past session that would make some small but nevertheless positive steps in that direction. Among the legislation pushed by some of the organizers of the conference that were passed into law are the following: SB 572 Cottage Food – bills expanding what can be sold under that definition; SB 932 limited fees charged by local health departments for such things as selling in farmers markets to $100 per year; HB 1694 will allow sampling of certain items at a farmers market with no permit or fee; HB 410 allows sales direct to consumers of processed on farm poultry and rabbit (limited to 1000 birds and 500 rabbits per year); HB2107 requiring local health departments to respond in a timely manner to inquiries. Please note the above captions are brief descriptions of the bills and are not analysis of the bill’s details. Another bill passed this session that may have a broader impact on Texas’s agricultural economy is HB 1325 by Rep. Tracy King – legalizing the growing of hemp.
Here are a few interesting tidbits of information about water usage in Texas that I heard at the conferences. It is estimated that by 2060 municipal uses of water will exceed irrigation uses in Texas. 78% of Texans now live in urban areas. Depending on the urban area, between 25–50% of water use is for outdoor uses – primarily watering lawns. The average urban Texan uses 100 gallons of water per day. Current water usage in Texas is sourced 60% from ground water and 40% from surface water. This may be the most significant statistic of all that I am mentioning: On average, 17% of water in municipal water systems is lost to leaks and other infrastructure problems.
In closing, my thought is that if we truly want to save water and rationally use it, we must stop subsidizing water cost for some uses, let the market work the way it works best by rationing through the price mechanism, thus providing an incentive to stop the 17% waste of water that occurs on average in municipal systems. The water shortages in Texas are primarily due to Texas’s tremendous population growth. When I moved to Texas in 1981 the population estimate was 15.33 million. The estimate is 29.09 million in 2019 almost doubling – approximately a 90% increase in 38 years.