The plan is intended to position West Texas as the "New American Oasis.”
Fifty-five individuals representing a cross-section of federal, state, regional public- and private-sector water interests convened recently at Texas Tech University's Innovation Hub at Research Park to organize a Regional Water Innovation Partnership. Their goal was to define the scope of work for conducting in-the-field, scalable testing and evaluation of technologies, integrated solutions and unique public-private partnership operating models to create a One-Water Opportunity and Strategy for West Texas.
"The adequacy of suitable water sources is an issue that touches all communities throughout the West, particularly those in West Texas,” said Joseph A. Heppert, vice president for research at Texas Tech. "Both the economic vitality and social well-being of our communities throughout the region are dependent on water. Texas Tech has outstanding researchers who are studying many aspects of this issue. Our strongest contribution can be made by working with governmental and private sector partners to develop new technologies for protecting water quality, enhancing the efficiency of water usage and repurposing so-called gray water. We are excited to partner our research capacity with consortia working to develop solutions in this field.”
AccelerateH2O was established as a statewide initiative to break through barriers and put the world's best technologies to work. It serves urban and rural, residential, industrial, agricultural and public water utilities by identifying alternative programs, methodologies and applications that ensure water is reused, conserved and better managed.
The meeting's attendees included representatives from the Texas Water Development Board's Office of Innovation, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's regional office, the Texas Department of Agriculture's Deputy Commissioner's Office, the Texas Rural Water Association, the Texas Desalination Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's national and regional offices, the South Plains Association of Governments, City of Lubbock Water and senior leadership from Texas Tech's Water Resources Center, the Water Center in the College of Agriculture Sciences & Natural Resources and the Maddox Engineering Research Center in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering.
The partnership was created to leverage assets, competencies, know-how, expertise and commercialization of centers, institutes, historical and current programs. Through collaboration with the Texas Rural Water Association, Texas Desalination Association and the High Plains Water Planning District, the partnership will:
- Organize specific off-take scenarios, industry collaborations and potential regional water markets into a packaged "Innovative Water Demonstration Hub” for five to seven small, rural systems and constituent interests to evaluate multiple technologies at one time and in one location;
- Identify, organize and co-manage the formal process of conducting and completing large-scale demonstrations, technology showcases and investment opportunities for a shared service center concept;
- Propose an inaugural water management project with appropriately vetted technologies, engineering, financial and business-use case approaches as partners with the Texas Water Development Board and new entities such as foundations, public finance and private equity firms, and other resource providers;
- Promote the formation of the "West Texas: The New American Oasis” branding of the Innovative Water Demonstration Hub, and therefore generate interest for specific technology applications, comparisons on technical-scientific-engineered-economic values; and
- Engage with industry, inventors, innovators and investors – as well as entrepreneurs, experts and consortia – to solve real-world challenges.
"Identifying current and breakthrough technologies and unique best-practice innovations – at the operational and managerial level – will ensure that West Texas communities and industries are drought-proof by sparking a ‘one-water' approach across sources, end-users and public-private management,” said Richard Seline, executive director of AccelerateH2O. "Launching the West Texas Innovative Water Demonstration Hub is one more step in that strategy. With a regional partnership focused on economic and workforce development for water innovation, we look to attract national and global collaboration and investment to seeking facilities and sites to showcase technical, engineered and economic impacts.”
Kicking off the roundtable, Sen. Charles Perry – chairman of the Texas Senate Committee on Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs – provided his vision for regional and statewide resiliency through better coordinated applied research, knowledge-sharing and global ideas coupled with local expertise and more effective use of resources generating new water from existing supplies through desalination and industry reuse.
"Every Texas Tech University chancellor and president, elected and appointed official in West Texas has laid the foundation for connecting the best of our research campuses, agriculture and industrial expertise, the entire array of public and private water operations with countries and technologies that need to be demonstrated and showcased in Texas and Southwest U.S. market,” said former Texas Tech chancellor and former State Sen. John T. Montford, a member of AccelerateH2O's Advisory Board. "West Texas has long been a leader in advancing ideas and applications that should be partners with a new generation of youth and student entrepreneurs, world-class technology firms, and a model for resiliency.”
Attendees recommended a set of immediate projects and programs towards knowledge-sharing and introduction of innovative strategies for both launching the Partnership and Demonstration Hub in 2018. While 20 content-rich project descriptions were captured based on critical and urgent objectives, attendees heard from several potential public- and private-sector funders in response to near-term budget implications for encouraging increased capacity-building among small and rural water systems.
Finally, while public policy is an indirect outcome from the work of the partnership and the potential results from the demonstrations, roundtable attendees focused on animal production and dairy water recycling, maximizing brackish desalination through new shared-service business models, expansion of data analytics and internet-of-things application in municipal, farm and ranch water demand management, a regional knowledge platform to capture success stories and limit failures in technology adoption and attracting national and global consortia of technology innovations.
"Forming the regional water partnership is not another public policy initiative, but we must link every water-related public and private source of best practice in technology adoption and deployment, and long-term benefit to our communities and industries with evolution in state and federal regulations, rulemaking, resource allocation that makes West Texas a 21st century economic competitor,” said Kimberly Gramm, senior managing director for the Innovation Hub. Our cities and counties look like places all around the world where resiliency is based on a simple proposition: uninterruptable water supply.”
Specific roundtable discussions centered on necessary skills and talent development to fill emerging workforce gaps and an outreach strategy to recruit a new generation of water operators and entrepreneurs.
"We must do better at communicating the serious challenges we face, the success stories we know and the unique opportunities we have that should excite high school, community college, four-year university youth and students as well as our returning veterans about the future of water-dependent industries and economic development,” said Danny Reible, the Donovan Maddox Distinguished Engineering Chair in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering and a faculty member in the Maddox Engineering Research Center, which is heavily focused on water technologies. "We can't wait until the next serious drought to remind us how vital water is to our cities.”
About Accelerate H2O
One way to meet Texas's ongoing water challenge is to use the best technologies to make all sources of water go farther, but there are barriers keeping that from happening. AccelerateH2O is focused on overcoming limitations to innovating water and the deployment of technology to address critical challenges for citizens, consumers, businesses and communities. The Texas Water Technology Accelerator was established as a statewide initiative, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit, to break through barriers and put the world's best technologies to work. More about AccelerateH2O can be found at www.accelerateH2O.org.