The difference between a challenge and an opportunity might depend on which side you view the issue. The state of affairs with Texas water is a case in point.
“The challenges (with Texas water issues) are opportunities, and the opportunities are challenges,” says John Tracy, director, Texas Water Resources Institute, College Station.
Tracy, speaking at the 28th annual Texas Plant Protection Association Conference in Bryan Dec. 6, said the state faces significant challenges with water resources, including both drought and flooding. Climate change, he adds, is an ongoing concern.
“Assuring the availability and quality of water for the state gives us an opportunity to work with water managers across the state” he says. “We see many areas in need of research from TWRI. We have to prioritize.” Setting priorities also comes with obstacles. “We face the politics of water,” Tracy explains. “The legislature enacts laws that set priorities.” Those priorities may or may not fit local needs.
He says watershed planning and restructuring provides an opportunity across the state. “We work with landowners and stakeholders to develop plans,” he says.
Regulatory challenges are perpetual. Tracy says a mussel species found in the Brazos, Lower Colorado and Rio Grande may be listed as an endangered species, which will be a factor in maintaining or improving water quality.”
He says working on endangered species listings has been an issue for years and will continue to be so.
“We also have to work on water availability during drought. Possibilities include water use—“from toilet to tap,” he says. Other efforts will include desalinization, using brackish water and recovery and storage of ground water.
TWRI will address failures in water systems—leaks or inefficient delivery methods that waste water. “Waste water leaking into water resources is also a challenge.”
Tracy says the lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s water supply offers a “model of abject failure. By court order, the city now has to provide citizens with bottled water, not just for drinking but for cooking and bathing.” He says the expense is staggering.
“At TWRI, we like to do research, but in practice we have to work with water management issues, including improving resources and also making certain we have a workforce trained and capable able of managing those resources.”
The challenge is the opportunity and the opportunity becomes a challenge.