The future of Texas State, water and the environment were on the table during a Texas Tribune discussion held Monday on campus.
“The Future of Water” was an installment of “The Texas Tribune Festival: On The Road,” a series of one-day symposiums around the state. The symposium considered the economical, environmental and political complications to confronting the state’s water crisis.
Speakers included House Speaker Joe Straus, Carolyn Brittin, deputy executive administrator of the Texas Water Development Board and State Rep. Allan Ritter, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Andrew Sansom, executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State’s water research center, was also in attendance.
“Water and the Land,” one of several panels held throughout the symposium, focused on the conservation of water in agricultural areas.
The panel consisted of Laura Huffman, executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Texas, David Langford, Texas Wildlife Association vice president, and Todd Staples, Texas agriculture commissioner.
Huffman said agriculture uses about 60 percent of all water in Texas. The number of irrigated agricultural acres in Texas has decreased by more than 30 percent since 1974, but yields of cattle and cotton have doubled. This change is an example of how technology is leading the way in irrigation and agriculture, Staples said.
“Technology has allowed us to conserve a lot of water just through changing out the irrigation technologies that are used,” Huffman said.
Staples said $8.3 billion and more than one million jobs will be lost if the state does not develop necessary and needed water resources. Langford said 40 percent of the treated water in the state is used for landscaping and the rest is wasted. Huffman said there is not enough water to support the state.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do. Our creeks are dry,” Langford said.
The panel discussed a variety of ways to help the state and residents conserve water and natural resources.
Huffman said San Marcos residents have voted to authorize a portion of the state’s sales tax to protect the land and water in the aquifer for more than a decade.
There are many ways to solve the water dilemmas Texas is facing, Staples said. The panel proposed solutions such as a rate structure that would charge those who use the most water more money. Huffman said this solution would incentivize using less water.
“What we could do is make conservation not just a movement in cities, but a completely different way people look at the consumption of water,” Huffman said. “Growing a state from 25 million to 50 million means dialing back use, and we’ve just got to find a way to mainstream that.”
Evan Smith, CEO and editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, had an hour-long conversation about higher education with University President Denise Trauth during the event.
Smith said 70 percent of students who enter college do not graduate on time and asked Trauth what Texas State is doing to increase graduation rates. Trauth referred to the Personalized Academic Career Exploration Center, which is designed to assist incoming freshmen in becoming successful graduates.
Student debt was brought up during the discussion. Trauth was asked what Texas State is doing about the student debt crisis. She said nationwide, the average student is $26,000 in debt after graduation, but at Texas State it is a $21,000 average.
“Considering the jobs our students earn after they graduate, $21,000 is lower than many other universities in Texas and is consequently paid off faster,” Trauth said.
Concerning tuition costs, Trauth said Texas State must adjust cost to supplement the dwindling funding until the legislature stops decreasing state support toward education.