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The Sweetwater Reservoir early this year. photos by Steve Satterwhite The Lege Tries to Do Some Dam Planning by FORREST WILDER ou don’t miss your water `til your well runs dry, as the old saying goes, and given the drought conditions in many parts of the state, the current Texas Legislature is beginning to pine. The Lege is wrestling with how to stretch water resources. Hanging above them is the 2007 state water plan, a voluminous document produced dur ing the past five years with the input of “stakeholders”water suppliers, busi nesses, irrigators, conservationists, etc in 16 regional planning groups. The plan predicts that Texas’ population will more than double in the next 50 years, with 46 million people calling the state home by 2060. Based on those projections, combined with the fact that reservoir sedimentation and shrinking aquifers will reduce existing supplies, the plan projects a water deficit of 8.8 million acre-feet by 2060. \(An acre-foot, about 326,000 gallons, covers an acre the water plan recommends a whopping $30.7 billion in new water projects, including 14 major reservoirs and more than 40 pipelines. While calling the current water plan an improvement over the previous one, completed in 2002, environmentalists and some local water planners are pushing the state to adopt aggressive conservation efforts and water management strategies rather than the traditional approach of dammingand damning streams and building other expensive infrastructure. They warn that natural systems are under strain and that action must be taken now to ensure that enough water is left in the ground and in streams to protect the environment. A step in that direction would be passage of long-awaited “environmental flows” legislation, House Bill 3. It addresses what people have understood for a long time: that flowing streams are essential to the health of bays and estuaries, not to mention the rivers themselves. The state’s coastal commercial and recreational fishing industries depend on flows, as do the endangered whooping cranes and the beer-sogged tubers on the Guadalupe River, to name a few “stakeholders.” Yet even though the public owns the surface water, the vast majority of water rights have been historically appropriated with little regard to nature. “As we’re approaching the limits … of our water supply, the health of bays and estuaries is more and more at risk,” says Myron Hess, director of Texas water programs for the National Wildlife Federation. continued on page 17 APRIL 6, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11