Water Conservation in Texas

water conservation in Texas

You don’t have to sit in a Texas coffee shop very long until the conservation turns to oil or water. Oil is discussed because we suddenly have a lot of it and as a result, the state is booming. Water becomes a topic due to its shortage, perpetuated by the continuing drought.


Needs of all water use categories are forecast by the Texas Water Development Board in a state water plan at the end of each five-year regional planning cycle. The last water plan was completed and published in 2012. In this plan, it is predicted that Texas population will increase 82 percent between 2010 and 2060, growing from 25.4 million to 46.3 million people. Even with the population increase, water demand in Texas is projected to increase by only 22 percent. Water usage will increase from about 18 million acre-feet per year in 2010 to approximately 22 million acre-feet per year in 2060. The small increase is primarily due to declining demand for irrigation water and increased emphasis on urban and rural conservation.

Areas where conservation can make the biggest impact are indicated by the water demand projections in the 2012 State Water Plan:

Category / Percent of 2060 Demand:

  • Municipal / 38.3
  • Manufacturing / 13.1
  • Mining / 1.3
  • Steam-electric / 7.4
  • Livestock / 1.7
  • Agricultural Irrigation / 38.1

It can easily be seen by the above numbers that municipalities and agricultural irrigation are the largest water users. Fortunately, conservation practices are being employed in both of these categories and will be discussed in future articles.

Water demands from mining involve exploration, development, and extraction processes of oil, gas, coal, aggregates, and other materials. On a state-wide average, this category is the smallest water use and the consumption is expected to decline one percent between 2010 and 2060. Mining demands increased in a number of counties due to estimates of increased water usage for hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale. Use of water for hydraulic fracturing operations is expected to increase significantly through 2020. This demand is partially alleviated by some oil companies using brackish water for hydraulic fracturing instead of fresh water.

Contrary to propaganda distributed by animal rights groups, water for livestock will be the second smallest user category in 2060, not the largest. It is also significant that grazinglands offer the greatest opportunity to conserve water and progressive livestock managers already utilize conservation practices that help replenish surface and underground water supplies.


Landowners, who understand water conservation say, “I want rain falling on my land to stay on my land.” What they mean is that their land is managed for increased water percolation into the soil and for reduced runoff by maintaining a continuous vegetative cover. Runoff water is unavailable to plants and it degrades surface water through silting.

“Vegetation is needed on the soil 24 hours a day, seven days a week to build organic matter, hold water and stop erosion,” says Ray Archuleta, United States Department of Agriculture–Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS). “Continuous live or dead cover helps maintain soil health and protects it from heat and raindrop impact. Soil needs armor.”

“Soil scientists report that for every one percent of organic matter content, the soil can hold 16,500 gallons of plant-available water per acre of soil down to one foot deep,” says Charles Gould, Michigan State University Extension. “That is roughly 1.5 quarts of water per cubic foot of soil for each percent of organic matter.”

Soil water, not utilized by plants, continues to percolate through soil until it reaches an underground reservoir or aquifer where it is stored. Some of the water from most aquifers eventually seeps into surface water bodies such as ponds, lakes and rivers.

Dixon Water Foundation demonstrates proper rainfall management on their four ranches, that collectively total over 15,000 acres. Two of the ranches are located near Gainesville, one is south of Dallas, and the fourth is near Marfa. The foundation was founded in 1994 by the late Roger Dixon. Primary purpose of the foundation is to promote healthy watersheds through sustainable land management. In addition to demonstrating sustainable land management practices, the Dixon Water Foundation funds an annual grant program that promotes its mission throughout key Texas ecosystems, provides landowner education and fosters public awareness about healthy living through healthy watersheds.

“Each ranch is expected to sustain itself financially with livestock sales and hunting leases,” explains Robert Potts, President and CEO of the Dixon Water Foundation. “We practice holistic management on all four ranches. We divided our pastures into 85 different paddocks collectively on the two Gainesville ranches, using both permanent and temporary electric fencing. Cattle and sheep are grazed together at heavy stock density and are moved into fresh paddocks daily.”

“In Holistic Management, livestock density is managed to match available forage, in order to maximize animal impact,” states Peggy Sechrist with Holistic Management Institute (HMI). “Hooves of animals pastured at a high-stock density pulverize soil, allowing more water penetration and nutrient cycling. Plants are grazed more evenly, and there is better distribution of forage utilization, urine and manure. High-stocking density also causes a more even distribution of litter as a soil cover. The layer of litter cools the soil, aids in water absorption and degrades into organic matter.”

“The continuous vegetative cover, resulting from holistic grazing management, builds organic matter, holds water and prevents erosion,” says Clinton Josey, Chairman of Dixon Water Foundation Board of Directors. “Rainwater soaks into our soils and does not run off the property. We want to keep all the water that falls on our properties, and we don’t want the neighbors’ rainwater. The reason is that runoff causes erosion, and we don’t want to lose our soil. We also don’t want our neighbors losing theirs.”

“We don’t see an immediate change in the water levels of our ponds after a heavy rain, due to soil absorption,” Josey continues. “A few days following a rain, the ponds will begin recharging from the aquifer.”


Trinity Waters promotes enhancement of land, water and life in the largest watershed within the state, through grants and educational programs. The organization works through a broad-based coalition of local communities and municipalities, non-government organizations (NGOs), stewards of public lands, private land owners, and local wildlife management cooperatives/associations. Trinity Waters is partially funded by corporate donations, currently led by MillerCoors.

“The Trinity River flows from its headwaters north of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex DFW) to its outlet into the Galveston Bay Complex,” explains Ken Klaveness, Executive Director of Trinity Waters. “This major Texas river is 512 miles long and has 1,983 miles of major tributaries that drain an area of over 18,000 square miles. With nearly eight million residents, the Trinity River Basin is the most populated river basin in Texas. The river furnishes primary water needs for over 40 percent of the state’s population.”

“About 75 percent of the Trinity River Basin remains in farms and ranches, which provide an important watershed service capability,” continues Klaveness. “This service has been reduced, however, by land fragmentation and changes in land use. For example, over 300,000 acres of native rangeland habitats were converted to non-native grasses over the ten-year period prior to 2003. During this same period, the average rural ownership size decreased by 27 percent as over 9,600 farms and ranches were created through large property subdivision. These land use conversions and fragmentation are placing important upland and flood plain habitats at risk.”

The Trinity River Basin presents a major opportunity for habitat restoration through wetland development, reforestation of bottomland hardwoods, invasive plant management and restoration of grassland habitats. These actions can deliver valuable ecosystem services through enhanced water quality, improved basin hydrology and mediated flood events. Other benefits, that can be realized, are carbon sequestration, wetlands mitigation and substantially enlarged land-based recreational opportunities. A Master Plan for the Trinity River can supply Trinity Waters with more public and private support, priority of public funding, improved conservation policy and a clearer understanding of natural resource trends. An additional focus of the project is to stimulate private sector markets to improve ecosystems, thus contributing to habitat conservation efforts at reduced public expense.

There are additional watershed management organizations that are helping landowners improve the quantity and quality of water in Texas rivers. When conservation in the coffee shop turns to water, let the folks know that is some good news. Efforts are being made to conserve water.

  • Water that seeps into ponds from aquifers is usually clear because of its percolation through soil.
  • Cattle can be an important tool in managing watersheds due to their hooves aerating soil and mixing it with litter and organic matter.
  • It is important to keep a continual vegetative cover on land to enhance water infiltration and reduce runoff and erosion.
  • Dixon Water Foundation uses hair sheep for pasture weed control.

Find Texas properties with oil and water on Lands of America

This article was originally published in the Fall 2014 Issue of Lands Of Texas Magazine, a Lands of America print publication. Subscribe here today!


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