The list of stakeholders for the Texas High Plains water resources includes small towns, feedlots, power generation plants, land owners and others. “It seems water management decisions ought to be left up to those stakeholders,” with oversight from the water district says Ronnie Hopper, a Petersburg, Texas, farmer and board member of the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No 1.
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Another factor setting the High Plains apart from other areas of the state is potential for population growth, which is not expected to increase in the area over the next few decades. The Panhandle population of about 750,000 “should remain relatively stable while the rest of the state will grow,” Hopper said. Population dynamics will play a role in planning for future water use. “It seems highly unlikely that we will ever export water from here to metro areas.”
Jason Coleman, general manager of the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, said current weather conditions have made the planning process a bit more tedious. “We started during the worst perfect storm.” That collision of elements included a long-term—and continuing—drought, record high summer temperatures and commodity prices that encouraged high production. Over the past four years several reservoirs have either gone dry or drawn down to be of no use for municipal, industrial or agricultural users.
Coleman said board members are dealing with these issues and trying to “create policy to represent what the people of the district expect. We are taking advantage of opportunities to discuss the water issue, and we gotta believe that it will rain again at some point.”
Water is not just an agriculture issue and not just a High Plains, a Texas or a national problem. “It is global.”
He added that farmers “are business people and accustomed to a ton of change.” And change will be necessary. “Now half-circles and dryland acres are more common. Some farmers are finding they can make more watering a half-circle than they can irrigating a full pivot.”
He also praised programs such as TAWC, a joint venture of Texas Tech and the Texas Water Development Board that encourages and demonstrates water use efficiency.
Technology is a key
Technology will play an increasingly important role in stretching available moisture. Hopper is adding drip irrigation on 30-inch centers to improve water efficiency. “It’s an economic decision, and we should be able to make it pay.”
He said improved, more drought tolerant varieties will also help. “We may be using less water but technology will help us make up the difference.”