Lubbock’s 100-year water supply plan.
By Aubrey Spear
The April 2022 release of the U.S. Drought Monitor map indicates that 40 out of the 50 states have been impacted by some level of drought stages. However, the drought map can change quickly during any given year when rainfall replenishes reservoirs and provides much needed relief for the agriculture community.
Several years ago, a media outlet looked at a U.S. drought map and naively declared that our city located on the South Plains of West Texas was running out of water since the drought map showed a big brown spot over our region. I had to explain to the media outlet that a drought map does not equate to a city running out of water. Why? Because a proactive city will have a long-term water supply plan that helps protect their water supplies from the forces of nature.
In 2013, the City of Lubbock (population +265,000) produced their first 100-year strategic water supply plan. This type of long-term plan is essential to our city since we are in a semi-arid area of the U.S. receiving an average of 19 inches of rainfall each year. Our Plan goals include:
- Provide a roadmap to develop and implement cost-effective and sustainable water supplies over the next 100 years;
- Diversify the City’s water supply portfolio to minimize risk associated with variable climate conditions; and
- Emphasize water conservation efforts to delay expensive water supply projects.
We have demonstrated that water conservation can delay new water supply projects as much as 20 years.
Provide a Roadmap
As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing: Planning is everything.” Some may think a 100-year water supply plan is going a little too far. However, it is comforting for businesses and citizens to know that Lubbock knows where their water in the future will come from as the city grows. Meeting future water demand requires advanced planning to avoid shortages.
Water supply projects are expensive and require financial planning to avoid rate shock to customers. In addition, many water supply projects take decades to plan, evaluate, permit, design and construct. Because the productive capacity of water supplies change over time, continuous planning is essential.
Diversify Water Supplies
We have all heard how important it is not to have “all our eggs in one basket.” This axiom applies to water supplies particularly. Most cities in the U.S. are seeking to minimize risks associated with variable climate conditions from year to year and from decade to decade. In West Texas, we may have 40-inches of rain one year and only 5-inches of rain another year.
Our region is blessed to be sitting on top of the Ogallala Aquifer which is an important groundwater supply. Since our groundwater supply recharges very slowly, we categorize it as non-renewable. We also categorize it as drought resistant since it does not evaporate during dry periods. We also have access to a limited amount of surface water.
Our lakes are categorized as renewable (during wet periods), but not drought resistant. Another valuable source of water that Lubbock is pursuing is potable reuse of wastewater. This source of water is both drought resistant and renewable. Drawing upon these three types of water supplies helps reduce the risks associated with uncertain climate conditions.
Emphasize Water Conservation
Roughly 70% of the world is covered with water. However, 97% of the water is in the oceans. Water is not evenly distributed across the U.S. forcing some areas of the country to consider water conservation measures to make every drop count. In Lubbock, our water conservation efforts have been very effective (+35% drop in per person consumption over a 20 year period).
While conservation cannot eliminate new water supply projects, it can push them back far enough so a city can pay off the debt resulting from their current water supply project. We have demonstrated that water conservation can delay new water supply projects as much as 20 years. Water conservation efforts take long-term planning.
We cannot eliminate all of the risks in life or in the water industry. In fact, the biggest risk we take is doing nothing. At least by planning for our future water supplies, we can reduce and manage the risk for those generations that will come after us.
Aubrey A. Spear is the Director of Water Utilities for the City of Lubbock, TX. He can be reached at ASpear@mail.ci.lubbock.tx.us