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Liquid Assets: The State of Texas’ Water Resources

Region M Plan


Rio Grande Region (M)

Region M Map

Text Description of Map of the Rio Grande Region (M)

Exhibit 34: Map of the Rio Grande Region (M)

The long-term water supply for Region M will be available through operation of an on-channel reservoir and construction. The project will be located approximately four miles southeast of Brownsville and will provide opportunities for water conservation and management improvement in the lower Rio Grande.

Region M, also known as the Rio Grande region, is located along the southern tip of Texas and is adjacent to Mexico. The region includes Maverick, Webb, Zapata, Jim Hogg, Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron counties, as well as the major cities of Laredo, Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen (Exhibit 34). Major economic drivers in the region include agriculture, trade, services, manufacturing and hydrocarbon production.102

Strategies Used and Estimated Costs

To meet projected water demands in 2060, the Rio Grande Planning Group has assessed various water management strategies and their costs. The objective is to provide 807,587 acre-feet of additional water supply by 2060. The projected total capital cost is just more than $1 billion, the fourth largest amount among all regions in Texas. To achieve an increase of 601,127 acre-feet of total water supply by 2060, the region will use a number of strategies including conservation, desalination, groundwater, surface water and water reuse (Exhibit 35).103

Exhibit 35

Rio Grande Region (M) Water Management Strategies

Description Capital Costs Water Gained in Acre-Feet Average Capital Cost per Acre-Feet
Conservation $334,173,100 462,423 $723
Desalination $358,414,525 77,864 $4,603
Groundwater $43,982,595 31,416 $1,400
Surface Water $297,162,982 190,103 $1,563
Water Reuse $52,389,226 45,781 $1,144
Total $1,086,122,428 807,587 $1,345

Note: Capital cost figures do not include administrative, programmatic or other costs that may be required to implement water management strategies.

Source: Texas Water Development Board.

Status of Major Water Projects and Strategies

Brackish groundwater desalination has the largest capital costs in Region M. Reverse osmosis (RO) is the most common method used in desalination of brackish groundwater. A majority of the current or proposed full-scale RO systems will use drainage ditch discharge, which will ultimately discharge into the Gulf of Mexico or Laguna Madre.104 NRS Consulting Engineers has completed the construction of seven regional brackish groundwater facilities and there are various brackish groundwater desalination projects in progress as well.105 Some of the regional facilities under construction are in the Valley municipal water district and City of Primera. Plants are also being built for the North Alamo Water Supply Corporation.106

The Seawater Desalination project will require a capital cost of nearly $16 million and a water gain of 7,902 acre-feet in 2060.107 The project has completed a pilot study focusing on the technology associated with seawater desalination. Currently, NRS Engineering is attempting to secure funding to start the demonstration scale project, which will answer questions not addressed in the pilot study in developing and building a full scale seawater desalination plant.108

The region is making a concerted effort to reduce water usage in rural areas through several on-farm conservation strategies. Specifically, the region is currently implementing methods such as low energy precision application and metering to help reduce the amount of water used on farms and ranches. In addition, from 2007, manufacturing clothes washers are required to be 35 percent more efficient than current standards.109

The Brownsville Weir and Reservoir strategy has a total capital cost of $66.5 million and is expected to produce 20,643 acre-feet of water in 2060.110 The project is set to capture and store excess river flows as a consistent water supply for lower Rio Grande Valley communities. The water supply for the region will be available through operation of an on-channel reservoir. The project will be located approximately four miles southeast of Brownsville and will provide opportunities for water conservation and management improvement in the lower Rio Grande. Currently, the Brownsville Public Utility Board is collaborating with “the U.S. and Mexican Sections of International Boundary and Water Commissions, City of Matamoros, Tamaulipas and Comision Nacional del Agua to develop bi-national efforts to construct the Project on the Rio Grande.”111

According to the TWDB, if the strategies listed above are not implemented, residents of Region M face losses of $164 million in income and 3,610 full- and part-time jobs by 2010, and more than $2 billion in income and nearly 26,900 jobs by 2060. In addition, state and local governments could lose $5 million in annual tax revenue by 2010 and about $76 million by 2060.112

Regional Challenges and Successes

There is concern for the reliability of Mexico’s inflows into the International Amistad-Falcon Reservoir system and the supply of water that is needed for water rights downstream at points of diversion and usage. Throughout the years, Mexico has often accumulated water debts to the U.S. in violation of the 1944 Treaty.113 In 1944, Mexico and the US signed a treaty about waters of certain international rivers, including the Colorado River.114 The lack of surface water from Mexico will decrease the supply available to sustain the area’s immense population growth. As of November 2008, however, Mexico had delivered all of the required water under the treaty and no debt currently existed, according to the International Boundary and Water Commission, the international body that manages the agreement.115

Overall, water supply in the region is scarce, and more diversity in water sources is needed. Additionally, funds from TWDB and federal programs for irrigation conservation have not been sufficiently available causing difficulty in successfully implementing irrigation conservation strategies.116

NRS Engineers on behalf of the Brownsville Public Utility Board (PUB) has completed a seawater desalination pilot study that will be published in January of 2009. The purpose of the study is to look at cost effective approaches in developing a full scale seawater desalination plant.117

Endnotes

  • 102 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007 (Austin, Texas, January 2007) Volume II, p. 85, www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/State_Water_Plan/2007/2007StateWaterPlan/CHAPTER%202_REGIONAL%20M_FINAL%20112706.pdf. (Last visited January 3, 2009.)
  • 103 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007 (Austin, Texas, January 2007) Volume II, p. 88, www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/State_Water_Plan/2007/2007StateWaterPlan/CHAPTER%202_REGIONAL%20M_FINAL%20112706.pdf. (Last visited January 3, 2009.)
  • 104 Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Group, Region M Regional Water Plan, by NRS Consulting Engineers, R.J. Brandes Company, LBG-Guyton Associates, Fernandez Group, Inc., Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, and Texas Cooperative Extension (Harlingen, Texas, January 2006), pp. 4-53-54, www.riograndewaterplan.org/downloads/waterplan2006/ch04-identevalselect.pdf. (Last visited January 3, 2009.) (Consultant’s report.)
  • 105 Interview with Jake White, director of Special Projects, NRS Consulting Engineers, Harlingen, Texas, November 20, 2008.
  • 106 Interview with Bill Norris, principal engineer, NRS Consulting Engineers, Harlingen, Texas, November 24, 2008.
  • 107 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007 (Austin, Texas, January 2007) Volume II, p. 346, www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/State_Water_Plan/2007/2007StateWaterPlan/APP%202.1_final%20112906.pdf. (Last visited January 3, 2009.)
  • 108 Interview with Jake White, director of Special Projects, NRS Consulting Engineers.
  • 109 Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Group, Region M Regional Water Plan, by NRS Consulting Engineers, R.J. Brandes Company, LBG-Guyton Associates, Fernandez Group, Inc., Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, and Texas Cooperative Extension (Harlingen, Texas, January 2006), pp. 4-24-25, 4-43, www.riograndewaterplan.org/downloads/waterplan2006/ch04-identevalselect.pdf. (Last visited January 3, 2009.) (Consultant’s report.)
  • 110 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007, Volume II, p.346.
  • 111 Email from Jaime Estrada, Brownsville Public Utility Board, Brownsville, Texas, November 24, 2008.
  • 112 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007 (Austin, Texas, January 2007) Volume II, p. 252, www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/State_Water_Plan/2007/2007StateWaterPlan/CHAPTER%209_112806.indd.pdf. (Last visited January 3, 2009.)
  • 113 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007, Volume II, p. 88.
  • 114 Colorado State University, Colorado Water Resources Research Institute and The Water Center, “Mexican Treaty (1944),” http://waterknowledge.colostate.edu/1944_mex.htm. (Last visited January 3, 2009.)
  • 115 International Boundary and Water Commission, “Status Report of Rio Grande Water Deliveries by Mexico,” (El Paso, Texas, November 22, 2008).
  • 116 Interview with Jake White, director of Special Projects, NRS Consulting Engineers, Harlingen, Texas, November 4, 2008.
  • 117 Interview with Jake White, director of Special Projects, NRS Consulting Engineers, Harlingen, Texas, November 4, 2008; and interview with Bill Norris, principal engineer, NRS Consulting Engineers.
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