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Water, Water, Everywhere, But How to Get a Drink?

For more than a century, American Civil Engineers have been an integral part of the process of planning for, developing, treating, pumping, transporting, and distributing to the nations users a safe and sufficient water supply. In north Texas, early public water supplies came almost entirely from springs and "groundwater" sources. After being naturally filtered after years of flow through the aquifer, the groundwater level in many Texas aquifers in the mid 1800's was so high that fresh, pure water flowed naturally to the surface in "springs". These springs became vitally important to early settlers.

Later, early manmade water wells tapped "artesian" aquifers that also provided water that would flow freely from the initially completed well since the aquifer was overlain by rock layers of lower permeability material that confined the water under pressure greater than atmospheric. Thus, these early wells didn't require pumps to bring relatively large volumes of water to the surface. For instance, in 1895 Arlington had a population of about 1,000 and was little more than a railway stop between Dallas and Fort Worth. But it was known for its public "mineral" well, which was evidenced on the surface as a large open water trough located at the intersection of Main and Center streets.

As Texas population centers grew, deeper wells and larger pumps were required to withdraw the volumes demanded by municipalities, agriculture and industry. Groundwater levels characteristically dropped lower and lower until the phenomenon of an artesian free-flowing wells is all but non-existent. "Stored" groundwater was being removed by "over-pumping" at rates faster than the natural downward replenishing flow of rainfall (after entering the "recharge" zones at the earth's surface) could flow through the soil to replenish the aquifer.

In the mid-1950's, rapid population growth, concentrating in urban areas, created rapid water-level declines in Tarrant and Dallas counties. The Texas Water Planning Act of 1957 created a water-planning division within the Texas Board of Water Engineers (currently known as the Texas Water Development Board). The act directed the Board to submit a statewide report on water resources and their development. This report led to a continuing stream of additional studies and reports over the next couple of decades. As the facts and projections materialized, cities and their engineers began to more seriously plan and develop raw water supplies from the relatively more expensive "surface water" sources.

Today, almost 59% of the all the water consumed statewide (for all uses including irrigation, municipal, manufacturing, power, mining, and livestock) still comes from groundwater sources. While statewide 40% of "municipal" water consumption is from groundwater sources, less than 6% of the municipal water supplies in Tarrant County come from groundwater sources, and in Dallas County less than 1%.

- John P. Wier, P.E., R.P.L.S., Historical Chair, Fort Worth Branch ASCE, July 2002

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