Jul 8, 2022 - News

Long-term drought could cost Texas trillions of dollars

A drying lake
More and more lakes in Texas are looking like this. Photo: Jeff Clow/Getty

Water supply in Texas is projected to decline by 18% by 2070, while demand for water in the state is expected to increase by 9% in the same time period, according to a report from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy and Texas 2036, a nonpartisan think tank.

Why it matters: Unmet water needs will negatively affect existing businesses, impair future economic development, and harm public health and safety in Texas.

  • "Almost no one will be immune to the impacts of water shortage," the report says.

The big picture: The Texas 2036 report shows the state could lose hundreds of thousands of jobs by the end of this decade and trillions in income.

  • The most directly affected industries, including agriculture, manufacturing and mining, are all expected to lose billions of dollars in income over the next few decades.

Context: The Southwest is in the grips of a "megadrought" that ranks as the driest period since at least 800 A.D., with human emissions of greenhouse gases accounting for about 42% of the drought's severity.

  • Researchers expect current drought conditions to persist and even expand across a vast stretch of the country.

Flashback: Formal statewide water planning started in the 1950s, after the "drought of record" left all but one of Texas' 254 counties classified as disaster areas.

  • The seven-year dry period ended with massive rains that resulted in the flooding of every major river and tributary in the state.
  • The drought cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and the subsequent floods caused an additional $120 million in damages.

By the numbers: Between 2020 and 2070, Texas' population is projected to increase by more than 70%, from 29.7 million to 51.5 million, with half of the growth expected in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas.

What they're saying: "The long-term underinvestment in water systems and the coming waves of required upgrades and capital expenditures provide a good opportunity to modernize our water infrastructure," the report says.

  • "Given the substantial projected population growth and potential demand increase, Texas should invest in a water system that is resilient, is sufficient for safeguarding public health, and facilitates sustainable economic growth."

The bottom line: Though state and local governments will be responsible for designing and implementing water-related policies, federal funds will be needed to help expedite the process of ensuring access to safe and quality water for all state residents.

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