By Nick Mitchell
If for no other reason than job security, it is important for natural science majors to ensure that as the years go by there is still nature for us to science on. Water, as I’m sure we are all very aware of during the Texas summer, is essential for keeping the environment vibrant and healthy. The healthier our state is, the more opportunity we all have in the future to benefit from all Texas has to offer. So between sips from the water bottle or the fountain, let’s take a look at the state of water in the state of Texas.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look too good. Despite being so close to the Gulf of Mexico, an overwhelming percentage of our water comes from underground caves called “aquifers,” which are basically gigantic collections of fresh water. In fact 97% of all of our groundwater and 40% of our total water consumption comes from a series of nine aquifers located partially or completely in Texas. The Ogallala Aquifer, the largest of these, stretches all the way from South Dakota to the panhandle of Texas. As big as these aquifers are, they are still being depleted rapidly by growing cities and agricultural fields across the Central United States.
Texas specifically is guzzling water at an alarming rate, up to six times the rate of recharge in certain areas. An article written by a representative of the United States Geological Survey published in the Texas Tribune estimates a staggering 52% drop in water volume by the year 2060. This rate of depletion will only accelerate as the climate becomes hotter and rain becomes more and more scarce. In fact we have already seen the water level drop up to 150 feet in places around major Texas cities such as San Antonio and Houston.
All is not lost, but we have to take immediate and drastic action to ensure that the standard of living that both Texans and our environment enjoy can be passed down through the generations. One bright spot is the passage of new regulations by the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District to restrict the pumping of water past the “allowable production rate.” This alone will not solve all our problems though. Texas is a growing state with a growing economy, and we will need to find ways to expand our cities and feed our populations with greater levels of water efficiency. This is where we come in.
As students in the College of Natural Sciences, we are the trailblazers for the inventions and developments that we will need tomorrow. The solutions at our fingertips are numerous and stretch across all our disciplines. Biologists and bioengineers can develop new drought-resistant plants. Chemists can explore new ways of cleaning and desalinating water to expand our reserves. Geographers and Geologists can help us understand the ground we build on, and how to use Texas’s resources to the utmost advantage. We all have a role to play in solving Texas’s most trying problems and averting crisis. The dangers of doing nothing are too high to think about, but the rewards for trying are potentially infinite.