Photo by Charles Kruvand

Texas has received high marks for our state’s laws and policies on water conservation. That positive recognition is deserved even though there is more the Lone Star State could do to advance conservation. But the real question is what’s happening “on the ground?” Are water utilities meeting the State’s legal requirements on conservation? Are these “municipal” water suppliers making their best efforts to reduce per capita water use, and thus save water and money for Texans?


Those are the questions we at the Texas Living Waters Project – a partnership of the Sierra Club-Lone Star Chapter, National Wildlife Federation, and Galveston Bay Foundation – have attempted to answer with this Texas Water Conservation Scorecard. We have reviewed over 300 water utilities in Texas to assess how much they are doing to save our most precious resource – water.


In compiling this Scorecard, we have relied on publicly accessible information from water conservation plans and reports, water loss audits, utility websites, and other such sources. A significant portion of a utility’s rating in the Scorecard depended upon information provided by that utility. If a utility failed to submit data to State water officials or if the information was incomplete, a utility may not have received points on one or more of our evaluation measures.


Our Scorecard is primarily an evaluation of utilities on their level of effort to advance conservation, not necessarily their performance in achieving conservation (with the exception of two scoring criteria). Each utility’s special circumstances may affect its rating. We have tried to provide additional context for the state’s 35 largest water utilities (serving 100,000 people or more) with “Snapshots” (narratives) that give more information. No evaluation system is perfect, but this Scorecard should at least highlight to Texans where their water utilities are doing well and where more conservation effort is needed.


One important point: Our Scorecard is an evaluation of what utilities are doing to save water through ongoing conservation measures, not temporary responses to drought. During drought we are asked or mandated to “conserve” water – reduce temporarily non-essential uses of water. Once the drought is over, those limitations are usually removed. What we are evaluating here is what utilities are doing to conserve water even when there is no drought.


What have we learned from our Scorecard? Here are some of the key findings:



  • Most of the water utilities evaluated need to substantially increase their water conservation efforts – even those utilities scoring highest could do more to help Texans save water
  • Most utilities are submitting required water conservation plans to the State of Texas but those plans vary widely in quality, detail, and public accessibility – and about one-fifth of the utilities are not submitting progress reports on carrying out those plans and/or submitting required audits assessing how much water is being “lost” in their operations
  • Approximately 40% of utilities report a loss of more than 11% of the water pumped in their system – in fact about 20% in that group report a loss of more than 15%
  • During 2009-2013 over half of the utilities serving 25,000 people or more beat their targets for water use reduction – although drought restrictions may have been a key factor – but only about 13% of utilities of this size have reached or gone below the per capita water use target recommended by the State
  • About two-thirds of the utilities serving 25,000 people or more have set a target for water use reduction over the current five-year period that does not even achieve the minimum rate of progress recommended by the State
  • Only about a third of the utilities serving 25,000 people or more place any limitations on outdoor landscape watering except during drought periods, even though outdoor watering accounts for substantial increases in water use in Texas during the summer, and that increase fuels the building of costly infrastructure to meet peak water demands
  • A significant number of water utilities in Texas have “conservation-oriented” water rate structures that send a relatively strong “pricing signal” to their customers that probably reduces the amount of water used – but that does not necessarily mean that water is priced at its true value
  • Some water utilities such as Dallas are working on new initiatives that may significantly advance water conservation, and new options for funding water efficiency are available to help utilities, businesses, and others reduce water use



Given these findings, we make several recommendations for advancing water conservation in Texas. Among our recommendations:


  • Water utilities should improve the quality of their water conservation plans and provide summaries of their plans, progress reports, and water loss audits to their customers directly as well as online
  • Water utilities should intensify their efforts to reduce water loss, increase their adoption of best management practices for water conservation, and set targets for per capita water use that actually reduce that use at an aggressive rate
  • More water utilities and municipalities should adopt outdoor watering limitations on an ongoing basis – not just during drought – and should promote and take advantage of new options for funding water efficiency
  • The Texas Water Development Board should require more standardized information in conservation plans and standardize the timing of their submittal, and the agency should provide an opportunity for utilities to enter all water data online – to enhance efficiency and expand public access to information about conservation efforts by their utilities
  • The State of Texas should provide more resources to assist small water utilities in educating their customers on water use and water conservation, base decisions on state financial assistance for water projects on a utility’s record and targets for conservation, and re-evaluate whether current targets are promoting sufficient progress in achieving reductions in per capita water use


Successive State Water Plans over the past two decades have increasingly emphasized the importance of conservation in meeting the water demands of a growing population. Many experts believe that Texas has the potential to achieve even greater levels of conservation than recommended in the most recent State Plan. No matter what the ultimate potential may be, our Texas Water Conservation Scorecard shows that all water utilities in Texas can and should do more to achieve greater water efficiency – and save us water and money at the same time.


Use this Water Conservation Scorecard website to explore your water utility's efforts to conserve water. Click on the region of the state where you live on the map above, find your water utility, and see how they rate on water conservation.  Compare your utility to other utilities around the state and within your region.  Talk to the people in charge of your utility. Let them know that you save water, and you expect them to save water too. Take action - sign up to send a message to your utility.  Water is a precious resource, and we need to use it efficiently. If we do, then we will have sufficient water to meet our needs and preserve the environment in which we live.