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At a March 2015 symposium on water in Texas, the state’s agriculture commissioner was asked about his agency’s actions in that realm.
Sid Miller, a former legislator who took office in January 2015, replied that just that week he’d signed off on water wells being drilled in two West Texas communities with less than 180-day water supplies. Miller, a Republican, continued: "We have towns in West Texas that are out of water, that are having to truck in water."
We were familiar with occasional past shortages. But is that happening again?
When we requested Miller’s backup information, Agriculture Department spokesman Bryan Black sent us web links to news reports. One was a January 2012 NPR news report on Spicewood Beach, a Burnet County town northwest of Austin, having to truck in water. Then again, conditions there were expected to rebound, according to a June 2013 Austin American-Statesman news story, thanks to new water wells drilled near Lake Travis and a new water treatment plant.
Black also pointed out a June 2013 Texas Tribune news story on the West Texas town of Barnhart, which was then out of water. To gauge Barnhart’s conditions of late, we reached John Nanny, an Irion County commissioner who serves on the board of the Barnhart Water Supply Corp. By phone, Nanny said drinking water last had to be trucked in during July and August 2014 — at quite a cost, he said. "We can’t afford to do that," he said, adding that a second well was dug, helping to shore up supplies to about 50 customers.
Black didn’t specify communities that had no water when Miller, um, piped up.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Next, we reached out to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. By email, spokesman Terry Clawson said that as of March 12, 2015, the agency wasn’t aware of any public water systems hauling in water.
That said, Clawson wrote, the Berry Oaks Water Company in Comal County, between Austin and San Antonio, intermittently hauls water because of summer shortfalls. Clawson emailed us a chart indicating the water system is building a well and water plant, to be up and running, Clawson said, by mid-May 2015.
Clawson said the chart represents the agency’s weekly updated High Priority Water System List, which reflects water-supply conditions self-reported to the commission — meaning it shouldn’t be read as all-inclusive. "There may be systems that have either not reported their status or are not aware of their conditions," Clawson said.
In a follow-up note, Clawson specified 11 public water systems previously reported as having to haul (or truck) in drinking water due to persistent drought. He attached a chart describing each instance. In another email, Black mentioned most of the same systems.
The commission chart listed five water systems located somewhere on the vast west side of Texas, specifically ones in Burnet County, northwest of Austin; Barnhart in Irion County, west of San Angelo; Medina County, west of San Antonio; Hood County, southwest of Fort Worth; and Tom Green County, whose county seat is San Angelo. Then again, in each event, according to the chart, the Texas Department of Agriculture or the water system itself funded improvements restoring supply.
Miller said: "We have towns in West Texas that are out of water."
In recent years, towns around Texas occasionally ran dry until new wells or water plants met needs. But Miller named no towns out of water of late nor did we identify any.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Emails, Bryan Black, Texas Department of Agriculture, March 11 and March 31, 2015
News story, "With new treatment plant, Spicewood Beach hopes to end water worries," Austin American-Statesman, June 22, 2014
Telephone interview, John Nanny, commissioner, Precinct 3, Irion County, Barnhart, April 6, 2015
Emails, Terry L. Clawson, manager, Media Relations, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, March 12-13, 2015
Charts showing drought high priority list water systems in Texas and public water systems that have hauled in water in Texas (received by email from Terry Clawson, March 12-13, 2015)
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