An Extreme Drought Does Not Mean Water Supplies Disappear

Sept. 13, 2013

On August 1, 2013, 24/7 Wall Street published a highly misleading article titled “9 Cities Running Out of Water.” In the article, the City of Lubbock, TX, is listed as the No. 1 city that is running out of water. While we do not dispute the fact that the Lubbock area has been in a “state of exceptional drought since 2011,” we strongly disagree with the article’s conclusion that the City of Lubbock is running out of water. An extreme drought does not mean water supplies disappear!

We desire to highlight some of the misleading and false statements that the article uses to substantiate its position–and then provide accurate information about Lubbock’s water supply situation.

Misleading correlation: The article incorrectly implies that there is a direct relationship between drought conditions and a city’s water supply.

Fact: Drought is a climatic condition in which an area experiences a prolonged period of low precipitation. Often in the western US, the lack of precipitation is accompanied with usually high temperatures. Unarguably, most of Texas has been in a prolonged period of drought since 2011.

The flaw in the article’s logic occurs when the author attempts to link exceptional drought to a municipality’s ability to deliver water to its constituents. A sustainable municipal water supply includes many factors–one of which may or may not be high annual rainfall. Good long-term water supply planning includes redundancy and diversification of types and locations of water sources, which allows cities in drought-prone areas to supply customers with water, regardless of the amount of annual precipitation.

Lubbock has created a sustainable water supply strategy that enables the City to continue to meet a growing population’s needs despite the last few years of less-than-average rainfall.

Misleading statement: “Some of these places only have one municipal water source. “˜A lot of these places in the Western US get their water from large reservoirs…. If that lake or reservoir goes dry, that’s all they have.”

Fact: Lubbock has a diversified water supply consisting of both groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer and surface water from Lake Alan Henry.

Ogallala groundwater is a valuable water supply component in times of drought, because it is available regardless of temperature or amount of precipitation. The City owns groundwater rights in Roberts County and Bailey County. Lubbock is a member of the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, which owns several hundred thousand acres of water rights in Roberts County. The City also operates its own large well field in Bailey County. Groundwater supplies roughly 80% of the City’s water needs.

The City also owns Lake Alan Henry. Despite the drought, the lake’s watershed has remained productive. Currently, Lake Alan Henry is at approximately 70% capacity.

In February, the City adopted the 2013 Strategic Water Supply Plan, which lays out our approach to supplying water for the City for the next 100 years. The plan is available online.

Misleading statement: The article implies because White River is running out of water, the City must also be running out of water.

Fact: The City of Lubbock does not obtain water from White River Reservoir. No correlation exists between White River’s lake levels and the City of Lubbock’s water supply.

False statement: “In April, to encourage water conservation, the City of Lubbock changed its water rate structure to penalize heavier users.”

Fact: The City has not changed its water rate structure since 2006, nor did the City raise or change its water rates in April.

Lubbock has been encouraging water conservation for over a decade because it is the right thing to do. There are numerous ways to promote water conservation, one of which is through appropriate water rates. Therefore, like many other major cities in the western US, Lubbock’s water rates are on an increasing block-rate system, which promotes water conservation. The City adopted this rate structure in 2006.

In conclusion, the City of Lubbock has proactively spent the past decade diversifying its water supply and securing both surface and groundwater rights in order to ensure that our thriving city has water for many decades to come. The moral to the story is that an extreme drought does not necessarily mean water supplies disappear or vanish.
About the Author

Aubrey A. Spear

Aubrey A. Spear, MBA, P.E., is the Director of Water Resource Services at the City of Lubbock, TX, with over 25 years of professional experience in water resources.

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