Monday, September 21, 2009

State prisons are Abilene's biggest water user

This summer's drought elevated water-usage issues to the fore throughout Texas. Given current population growth and the fact that we're already facing shortages, it's not difficult to predict the crisis will only worsen in the next few years.

So I was interested to see this story from the Abilene Reporter News ("Water use likely to rise this year," Sept. 19) indicating that the Department of Criminal Justice is the largest water user in Abilene, with two TDCJ units soaking up 240.7 million gallons last year. "Usage at TDCJ outdistanced Dyess Air Force Base’s nearly 236.7 million gallons, Coca-Cola’s 94 million gallons, Abtex Beverage Corp.’s 67.1 million gallons and Abilene Independent School District’s 66.9 million gallons," according to the Abilene Reporter-News.

This is a bit of a sleeper issue that I'd not considered previously. Spokesman Jason Clark "attributes TDCJ’s high usage in Abilene to the approximately 5,000 offenders — as well as 900 employees — at the two prison units. The Middleton Unit also does all laundry for the Robertson Unit, Clark said." That means these units between them are using a little more than 48,000 gallons per year per inmate.

Abilene residents used 5.7 billion gallons of water last year, and more than one out of every 23 gallons went to TDCJ. With 110 other TDCJ prison units around the state, I'll bet that's not the only place where TDCJ is the biggest community water user. Indeed, it's quite possible that, in aggregate, TDCJ is the largest water user in the state (possibly in competition with the Department of Defense).

Clark told the paper TDCJ is already taking some steps to reduce water use:

Clark said the TDCJ has taken steps to conserve water, including replacing 306 shower heads with “economizer shower heads,” which use 1.5 gallons of water per minute — with some having timers. TDCJ has also wrapped steam line pipes at the facilities with insulation to “help with evaporation and conserve energy as well as reducing the amount of water required when heat isn’t lost,” Clark said.

Clark said TDCJ has an active program statewide to reduce utility costs and the amount of usage and continually encourages all manners of conservation.

I don't know exactly what all TDCJ is doing to reduce utility bills, but this issue isn't going away anytime soon. Keeping the water flowing will likely be a source of increased expense in the coming years. Texas faces a growing water shortage and at root there are two ways to address it: Rationing or pricing. So far, rationing has been the method of choice for most local governments and those restrictions mostly fall on residential customers, not institutional users.

By contrast, large commercial and institutional water users typically get volume discounts compared to residential rates. But if we have too many more repeats of this year's rain shortage, the day will come when rationing is inadequate and utilities begin charging higher prices to their most voluminous customers to enforce conservation goals. And TDCJ appears to be among the most voluminous of all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe this will give a reason for enviros to start opposing prison and jail building.