A new frontier in Texas: managing and regulating brackish groundwater

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

The challenge of providing access to clean water is visible in Texas, where chronic drought coincides with increasing water demand. The 2012 Texas State Water Plan reports a 2,700 million cubic metres (MCM) gap between freshwater supply and demand in 2010, a number predicted to grow to 3,100 MCM by 2060. Due to the difficulty of reducing water demand, policy makers and water providers are evaluating new sources, including brackish groundwater for desalination or direct use. It is estimated that Texas aquifers contain more than 3,300,000 MCM of brackish groundwater, which, if converted to fresh water, could meet current consumption needs for 150 years, albeit at a greater cost. Using Texas as a case study, this article addresses policies to better manage the supply of brackish groundwater. We review the geological, technical, and legal contexts of groundwater in Texas and situate brackish groundwater within those constructs. We consider efforts by other states to regulate brackish groundwater and identify management goals, including facilitating access to and incentivizing use of brackish groundwater and protecting freshwater aquifers from potential saline intrusion related to brackish groundwater production. Various brackish groundwater policies are examined, and policy recommendations regarding use of the resource are offered.

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