The water generation gap
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For thousands of years freshwater springs provided the foundations of human settlement in Texas, from Native Americans to Spanish missionaries to German immigrants. However, over the last generation in Texas – and across much of the United States and the rest of the world – water has become just another convenience of modern life, available at the turn of a handle or push of a button. But times are changing. In Texas a perfect storm is brewing as the population booms and water resources deplete, and many people believe water will soon overtake oil as the next big play in the state. Already there is a sustained effort by companies and investors to secure major water assets and rights. At the same time, almost paradoxically, Texans continue to overuse water for lush lawns, poorly suited agriculture, and overtaxed infrastructure without considering the long-term impacts of these habits. As recently as a generation ago, during the previous drought of record in Texas in the 1950s, most Texans either relied on rain for survival – for livestock or agriculture – or knew a family member that did. That connection to water has been all but lost over the last 50 years as reservoirs have brought reliable water supply to an increasingly urbanized population. Now flushing the toilet is as familiar as most people get with the water cycle. Sharlene Leurig, a young woman who is extremely passionate about water in both her professional and personal life, is both a throwback to a different Texas and a promising indicator of how Texans might come to grips with the new water future coming down the pipe. I follow Leurig on her quest to document springs across Texas while also meeting with veteran water experts who’ve spent their lives submerged in the issue.