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Severe Texas drought starts to harm water quality

Published: Thursday, November 3, 2011

As the intense 13-month drought in Texas continues, it's starting to raise concerns about water quality in cities. As water evaporates without being replenished, the salt content concentrates. In Robert Lee, a small town east of Odessa, one resident said the tap water from an almost-dry lake "tastes ugly and stinks."

Jackson Hill, spokesman for the Austin Water Utility, said water quality is not an issue, although there has been a persistent problem with algae in Lake Austin, the city's main water supply. Decreased inflows to Lake Austin and its suppliers, lakes Travis and Buchanan, have caused the waters to stagnate, encouraging algae growth. Hill said that the utility is using Powdered Activated Carbon to tackle the algae issue.

Poor water quality is also an issue for fish, which have been turning up dead in lakes and streams across the state. Droughts increase the toxicity of chemicals in streams and could harm aquatic life, according to a study by Baylor University. Wastewater from treatment facilities can also affect wildlife as chemicals that are usually harmless become toxic at high pH levels, said Ryan King, co-author of the Baylor study.

"This is an important issue for Texas because the state is likely to see more frequent and more severe droughts in the next few decades," King said. "This, coupled with a fast-growing human population that will need more water and produce more wastewater, suggests that drought-induced risk of toxicity will increase and will occur in more places in Texas in the near future."

The majority of all rivers in Texas are flowing at below normal rates, said Andrew Sansom, executive director of Texas State University's River Systems Institute. "[T]he biggest threat is that there is so little water that there isn't enough of it to dilute the stream," he said. If the drought continues to worsen, as projected, water quality could become an even more pervasive issue (Lara Lapin, Texas Tribune, Nov. 1).
-- JP

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from climatewire-10-31_11-11 with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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