Is Desalination The Answer To Texas' Long-Term Water Needs?

Apr 4, 2014

Texas Matters: Texas has enjoyed cheap water for years, but it may not be that way for much longer as the days of relying on a single source for water are coming to a close. Desalinating salt water is expensive, but could help the state cope with water shortages. Also on this show: Lesser prairie chicken protection, fracking and cancer in Flower Mound, Texas.

The future landscape of water in Texas

How can Texas be short on water when we have an entire coastline with access to the stuff? All we need to do it set up some desalination plants and start pumping. Problem solved, right? Well, no.

Desalinated water is much more expensive than the water Texans are accustomed to having access to.

But as Texas is seeing the growing scarcity of fresh water – and more reservoirs are going dry and aquifer levels are dropping and communities are going on mandatory water restrictions – desal, despite that expense, is looking more and more attractive.

Kyle Frazier is the executive director of the Texas Desalination Association.

"Whether you believe in global warming or don't believe in global warming, or it's manmade or it's not manmade, all that's kind of irrelevant at this point. We do know that it's getting warmer and it's been getting drier here in Texas over the last several years and near as we can tell long term that trend doesn't appear to be changing so we're going to have to look at water in a different way. We've enjoyed very inexpensive water across the state for a long time and those days are probably past. Everyone, all communities, I think, are going to have to start looking at other options -- and that would include conservation, reuse and desalination -- as part of a water portfolio instead of just depending on one source."

Also in this episode of Texas Matters

That is one controversial chicken!

The lesser prairie chicken is now an officially threatened species and on May 1 new federal protections take effect set up to prevent the extinction of the native fowl.

But industry leaders are grousing that the protections will interfere with oil and gas drilling and the construction and operations of wind farms.

Scientists and environmentalists, on the other hand, are crowing just the opposite; they say the prairie chicken protections, which rely on voluntary compliance, are inadequate. And many are calling for full endangered-listing protections for the prairie chicken.

Jay Lininger, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said unprecedented loopholes undermine Endangered Species Act protections for lesser prairie chicken.

Is there a correlation between fracking and cancer?

A "cancer cluster" is a term used by public health workers to define an outbreak of greater-than-expected number of cancer cases in an area. When there is the suspicion of a cancer cluster state health workers will do a study and look to see if the number of cancer cases are greater than what would be statistically understandable for that area.

That’s what happened in Flower Mound, Texas. The concern was that the fracking of the Barnet Shale in the vicinity was releasing benzene into the neighborhoods and there was an increase in the number of children diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma.

The Texas Department of State Health Services conducted studies and declared there is no cancer cluster.

But a new re-examination of the study by an independent third party has a different conclusion: that there is a high probability that there is a cancer cluster and more health studies are needed, along with increased air quality monitoring and regulation of air pollution in the Barnett Shale.

That is the opposite of the state’s finding.

Rachael Rawlins is a law school lecturer and researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. She published the report last week in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal.