Water — it’s the one thing that is easily overlooked until the taps run dry.
For the past year, and even longer, the city has been battling to keep the taps turned on and the liquid flowing.
It is this push to improve the quality and quantity of it that makes it the Bee-Picayune’s Newsmaker of the Year.
Recently, city councilmen agreed to make major improvements to its water supply.
First, the city council agreed to pour $10,000 more per month into improving the water infrastructure. Then they agreed not only to replace the filtering media but three of the pumps at the intake structure.
Just a couple of weeks ago, two of those pumps went down though. The cause remains unknown, but it was just another reminder of how dependant upon water the city is, not only for growth but just to sustain what it has.
Several new hotels have been built in what is now dubbed “hotel row” along U.S. Highway 59 east of the city, and new apartments and even condos are going up around town. And they all need water.
With Lake Corpus Christi well below a comfortable level, at a staggering 15 percent of capacity, the city is working to ensure that not a drop of the wet stuff goes to waste.
Reports released early this year estimated that about $20K per month in treated water was literally seeping back into the soil through leaky pipes.
For the past six months, city crews have been working to repair the leaks in the almost 20-mile pipeline from Swinney Switch as fast as they can.
During a recent conference in Corpus Christi, Mike Bewley, the supervisor of the division of emergency management, part of the Department of Public Safety, gave a dire warning.
Texas has an unimaginable water crisis.
“Five million trees in Texas died last year,” Bewley said.
One of the frustrations he faces is convincing city, county and regional governments to admit there is a crisis.
“In 2007, San Angelo had only eight weeks of water left. Yet, there is no evidence the city ever formulated a water plan,” he said during that conference. “They never instituted water restrictions. Their water was going to run out in eight weeks, but you still could water your lawns.”
However, it cost that city around $1.5 million a day to haul 100 trucks of bottled water during the shortage, and that was every day until it rained.
His office has yet to find any Texas municipality that has made any plans as to what to do if it should run out of water.
The drought, he said, is forcing a paradigm shift. “It is challenging our water laws, which originated in Europe, where they don’t have droughts,” he says. “Eventually, some emergency manager is going to be faced with figuring out who gets the remaining water — a power plant or a hospital.”
Many residents have clung to the hope offered earlier this year by John Metz of the National Weather Service office in Corpus Christi. He offered there was a 40 percent chance that the current La Niña condition affecting South Texas with extended dry weather will start changing to an El Niño pattern and moisture will return to this part of the state.
Still, there has been no significant rain.
Beeville is actually about 10 inches behind on rainfall for the year.
This lack of rain devastated many of the crops.
Corn and grain sorghum (milo) crops just about burned up in the fields this year. Little hope was had for the cotton.
When cotton was planted this year, there was some moisture about a foot into the soil. But soon the roots of the cotton plants will reach lower than that, and all they will find when they get that deep will be powder-dry dirt.
Even the drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale is dependent upon the amount of water that can be pumped out of the ground.
It takes about 4.7 million gallons of water to frack the average well in the Eagle Ford shale. Some take considerably more and some take less.
Water, or lack thereof, will continue to appear in the news either directly through drought concern stories or indirectly through occasions of prosperity.
Whether the glass is half full or half empty, what remains is the liquid key to the continued growth of city and county.
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.