Texas lags behind most states in planning for the unavoidable impacts of climate change on its landscape and economy, according to a national report released Thursday.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which prepared the report, said Texas must work not just to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, but to prepare for rising sea levels and declining water supplies.
The environmental group lumped Texas with 11 other states that have no strategy for responding to the effects of climate change, particularly those related to water. Texas’ ongoing drought clearly shows its vulnerability to higher temperatures and changes in rainfall, said Steve Fleischli, director of the NRDC’s water and climate program.
“This is a call to action, not a call for alarm,” Fleischli said.
‘Past is not prologue’
The report noted that Texas has some policies, including increasing water conservation, that could be beneficial in adapting to a warming planet. Yet, Texas officials missed a key opportunity by not giving “explicit consideration” to the impacts of climate change in the 2012 version of the state’s long-range water-supply plan by calling it an “ambiguous risk,” Fleischli said
Texas officials also unwisely use the 1950s drought as the marker for the worst-case dry spell in state history – even while acknowledging the possibility of warmer and drier conditions because of climate change, he said.
State water planners “need to understand that the past is not prologue,” Fleischli said.
The Texas Water Development Board said it used the 1950s drought as a benchmark because there was not enough information available to determine the impacts of climate change over the next 50 years.
The plan is updated every five years, allowing the state to adjust “when sufficient information is available to warrant change,” said Carolyn Brittin, deputy executive administrator of water resources planning and information at TWDB.
The $53 billion plan calls for more reservoirs, desalination plants and pipelines, among other projects, to avoid grave water shortages over the next half-century.
The NRDC said the state instead should prioritize more aggressive water conservation and reuse strategies to meet long-range needs.
At the same time, Texas should do more to plan for rising sea levels caused by climate change, the group said. The risk includes increasingly frequent flooding and greater coastal erosion.
‘Texans deserve more’
While the Texas Sea Grant program has helped the Galveston Bay area prepare for the ocean’s rise, the state does not have a comprehensive strategy, the report said.
“Texans deserve more and should demand that their state government address climate change risks like many other states are doing,” Fleischli said.
The environmental group ranked California, Maryland and New York among the nine most prepared states.
In addition to Texas, the least prepared states included Alabama, Iowa, Missouri and Ohio.