Liquid Assets: The State of Texas’ Water Resources
Region A Plan
Panhandle Region (A)
Exhibit 10: Map of Region A
Even with full implementation of all these strategies, Region A expects a shortfall in irrigation water of more than 300,000 acre-feet in 2060.
Region A, also known as the Panhandle region, consists of 21 counties and includes the cities of Amarillo and Pampa (Exhibit 10). The region is bisected by the Canadian River and gets nine-tenths of its water from the Ogallala Aquifer.
Region A’s ten water management strategies are focused mainly on conserving existing groundwater supplies used by irrigators, developing additional wells and encouraging voluntary transfers among users.
The region also receives small amounts of water from municipal and manufacturing conservation, water reuse projects and the Palo Duro Reservoir. As such, its water management strategies fall into four general categories: conservation, desalination, groundwater and surface water needs (Exhibit 11). Even with full implementation of all these strategies, the region expects a shortfall in irrigation water of more than 300,000 acre-feet in 2060. Region A estimates its management strategies will cost $562.4 million through 2060.7
The Panhandle region shares an overriding challenge with Region O… Most of the water supply for both regions comes from the Ogallala Aquifer. This aquifer is vast but recharges very slowly, and its water is being used at an unsustainable rate.
Status of Major Water Projects and Strategies
Region A’s conservation strategies are having only limited success. Its strategies include municipal conservation measures such as public awareness programs and water audits; manufacturing conservation efforts like using water with lower mineral content; and irrigation conservation efforts such as irrigation scheduling. The regional water planning group has set a long-term goal to deplete no more than 1.25 percent of the Ogallala Aquifer’s water supplies per year. However, the planning group reports that this restricted access to the Ogallala Aquifer has made it difficult for the region to produce adequate water supplies in the short-term, and thus conservation measures are having a limited positive impact. Even so, the planning group estimates that its conservation strategies could save the region an estimated 288,476 acre-feet per year.8
Well development plans represent the region’s most costly strategy. Costs to drill new groundwater wells in Roberts County alone are estimated at $164.3 million. Such cost estimates, combined with the region’s limited groundwater supplies, have made the board’s drilling strategy difficult to implement thus far. The region has, however, received a commitment of nearly $23 million from the Texas Water Development Board to help fund new well drilling in Potter County. Even with this strategy, the region faces challenges in maintaining an adequate water supply.9
According to TWDB, any failure to fully implement Region A’s strategies could cost area residents $384 million in income and 5,320 full- and part-time jobs by 2010, and nearly $1.9 billion in income and more than 30,000 jobs by 2060. In addition, state and local governments could lose $24 million in annual tax revenue by 2010 and some $127 million by 2060.10
Regional Challenges and Successes
The Panhandle region shares an overriding challenge with Region O, the Llano Estacado region, which borders it to the south; most of the water supply for both regions comes from the Ogallala Aquifer. This aquifer is vast but recharges very slowly, and its water is being used at an unsustainable rate. Unfortunately, the Panhandle region’s planning group has been unable to identify water management strategies that can fully address the region’s water needs.
Given its dependence on the Ogallala, following the region’s goal of depleting no more than 1.25 percent of its water supplies annually is difficult. This is illustrated by the fact that one of its water management strategies is “temporary overdraft,” a strategy to use more than the recommended annual amount of 1.25 percent, to meet the needs of counties with inadequate supplies. These two opposing objectives illustrate the challenges that Region A faces in attempting to balance present and future water requirements. Several counties already lack sufficient water supplies to meet their irrigation needs.
The Region A planning group notes that its report represented a “worst-case” scenario which assumes that, absent the strategies recommended in the water plan, the region would take no actions to address shortages that might occur. Similarly, the planning group observes that the shortage estimates used in the report are fully cumulative. For example, the planning group’s report assumes that a shortage that is projected to begin in 2015 continues to exist through 2060. The planning group also stated its estimates did not assume any conversion to dryland farming. As the chairman of the planning group said, “Some conversion to dryland farming is already happening, and some is returning to grass, too.”11
The Texas Panhandle has been part of the nation’s breadbasket for many decades, thanks to irrigation technology that converted dry grasslands to farmlands. How the region responds to shrinking supplies of groundwater may be the largest single factor in determining its future.
- 3 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007 (Austin, Texas, January 2007), Volume II, pp. 38 and 132, www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/State_Water_Plan/2007/2007StateWaterPlan/CHAPTER%202_REGIONAL%20E%20final_112706.pdf and www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/State_Water_Plan/2007/2007StateWaterPlan/CHAPTER%205_final%20112906.pdf. (Last visited December 30, 2008.)
- 4 Alicia A. Caldwell, “El Paso Desalination Plant Opens with High Expectations,” The Associated Press State & Local Wire (August 9, 2007), pp.1-2. (Nexis document.)
- 5 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007 (Austin, Texas, January 2007), Volume II, p. 201, http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/State_Water_Plan/2007/2007StateWaterPlan/CHAPTER%207%20FINAL_112906.pdf. (Last visited December 30, 2008.)
- 6 El Paso Water Utilities, “Setting the Stage for the Future,” pp. 1-3, http://www.epwu.org/water/desal_info.html (Last visited December 30, 2008.)
- 7 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007 (Austin, Texas, January 2007), Volume II, pp. 13-16, http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/State_Water_Plan/2007/2007StateWaterPlan/CHAPTER%202_REGIONAL%20A%20final_112906.pdf. (Last visited December 30, 2008.)
- 8 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007, Volume II, pp. 13-16.
- 9 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007 (Austin, Texas, January 2007), Volume II, pp. 333-334, http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/State_Water_Plan/2007/2007StateWaterPlan/APP%202.1_final%20112906.pdf. (Last visited December 30, 2008.)
- 10 Texas Water Development Board, Water for Texas 2007 (Austin, Texas, January 2007), Volume II, p. 251. http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/State_Water_Plan/2007/2007StateWaterPlan/CHAPTER%209_112806.indd.pdf. (Last visited December 30, 2008.)
- 11 Interview with C.E. Williams, chairman, Panhandle Water Planning Group, Amarillo, Texas, November 4, 2008.