Many regions across the U.S. are experiencing drought conditions, and in the past few years Texas has been especially hard hit. Water Quality Products Managing Editor Kate Cline spoke with Bob Boerner, president of Culligan Southwest Inc., to find out how the drought is affecting water quality in the state.
Kate Cline: What is the status of the drought in Texas? What is the outlook?
Bob Boerner: Texas suffered through a particularly severe drought in 2011 that turned out to be the worst single-year drought in recorded history, and was the worst of a three-year event that is still lingering on, but with some alleviation. We’ve had some sporadic decent rains this year, but many of our reservoirs are still severely depleted and many municipalities still have their higher level of watering restriction regulations in place.
The long-term prospects for Texas' water supply challenges are eye-opening. The population is projected to double in the next 50 years, water demand will increase by 27% and groundwater supplies are expected to decrease by 32% — a recipe for a perfect (rainless) storm if there ever was one.
Cline: How has the drought affected water treatment and water use in the state?
Boerner: In areas with private wells, especially in the central and western parts of the state, groundwater supply became an issue for many, and some people had to deepen their wells or drill new ones. Water quality suffered as well, due in part to more concentrated supplies with less natural flow and recharge. I know in some parts of our territory we had to concentrate on making sure recharge parameters were set up as efficiently as possible so water was not wasted.
Cline: What has the government done in response to the drought?
Boerner: The state of Texas wishes it had more control over the widespread drought conditions (as do many of us), but it of course cannot control the rain. So instead it works to limit high users by relatively aggressive enforcement of watering restrictions. It also has been stepping up its efforts to implement a statewide water plan, with meaningful input from various geographical regions. Most scenarios include increased conservation as a mainstay, which does make good sense, as well plans to develop "new" sources, such as desalination of brackish groundwater that previously has been unusable. There are actually a number of these desalination plants online already around the state, mostly in the western regions where the water is saltier and in shorter supply.
Cline: How has the drought affected dealers?
Boerner: Most everyone in Texas is more water aware than they were just a few short years ago, which is a good thing. Some dealers have had to pay close attention to backwash frequency and water usage, especially in private well situations, and with the drought has also come worse water quality in many cases. Some dealers are using the opportunity to stress the importance of both water quantity and quality to their consumers.
Cline: What types of water reuse technologies are being used to combat the problem?
Boerner: Water conservation has become a really big initiative across the state, and I know that San Antonio has one of the most aggressive and successful programs in the country. Techniques that were considered fringe practices just a few years ago, such as rainwater catchment and condensate capture, are now seeing widespread adoption, especially for irrigation water use. And wastewater reuse for irrigation of golf courses and other large-scale public landscaping is putting a sizeable dent in the need to find more sources in that realm.
In addition, desalination of brackish groundwater (1,000 to 10,000 mg/L TDS [total dissolved solids]) has become more prevalent, with 38 good-sized systems in use statewide. Some innovative techniques for storing this partially treated water have been utilized as well, including a technique called ASR, or aquifer storage and recovery, which uses parts of the aquifer to hold the now usable water for future pumping to a final treatment plant.
Cline: What advice do you have for dealers in other states also experiencing droughts?
Boerner: Unfortunately, drought conditions seem to be with many of us to stay, and this unwelcome natural phenomenon, whatever its causes, coupled with an increasing population in many areas, exacerbates water quantity issues. Even if you don’t have drought conditions yet, it makes good sense to practice conservation and to become as water efficient as possible in your processes, on your own site as well as in the field, and also in the designs of your water quality applications for consumers.