Making sure we don’t become Cape Town

Water is life. As our most basic need, I believe access to clean, reliable water is an inalienable right. You cannot have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without water. That’s why it is critical that we lead in Washington to protect our water.

In recent news, we have learned that Cape Town, South Africa, is facing a terrible drought that will force the city to cut off the water supply to millions of residents by late spring unless there are unexpected heavy rains. The military is being activated to protect water distribution centers that will be established when this happens. No longer apocalyptic fiction, this is the first highly developed city to face the loss of critical basic services due to the effects of climate change.

Closer to home, our Texas drought is now only a memory, but as one of the fastest growing regions in the United States, the San Antonio-Austin corridor and the Hill Country risks Cape Town’s future unless we act now.

The fight for water is a continuing problem with our aquifers and well water supply at risk. Last week, I attended the kickoff of the No Dripping Sewage campaign, an effort to stop the City of Dripping Springs from dumbing treated sewage in water ways providing well water for area residents and a tributary of Barton Springs.

Our water conservation districts are struggling to keep up with demand and implement conservation initiatives. The EPA estimates we need $655 billion to upgrade our current water infrastructure over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, organizations like the Hill Country Conservancy are limited in how much aquifer recharging land they can set aside by buying conservation rights.

This is why I am proposing a federal water conservation fund that these organizations can tap to protect our water supply and water quality. By implementing a 1¢ per gallon tax on water usage and a 10% tax on new greenfield development, this fund would generate a $150 billion/year to upgrade our water infrastructure, create new conservation initiatives, and make funds available for conservation easements to protect undeveloped land that rests over our water supply.

We must also outright ban fracking as a water intensive, potentially highly polluting fossil fuel extraction method that has no place in a 21st century energy plan to combat climate change and keep us globally competitive.

Cape Town does not have to be our future, but we must act boldly now to protect every drop for our generation and the generations to come.