Haley Varnadoe Headshot-1

Third-year law student, Haley Varnadoe, recently accepted an offer to publish her paper—Everything is Bigger in Texas, Including the Need to Incentivize and Implement Innovative Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems as a Method of Water Reuse—in the Spring 2022 edition of the Denver Water Law Review. Varnadoe’s article focuses on solutions to mitigate the “negative hydrological effects of climate change” on households in arid, rural Texas through water reuse. Specifically, her article emphasizes the importance of decentralized wastewater treatment systems for water reuse.

Varnadoe was inspired by water accessibility, water justice, and water quality—a trio of interrelated topics that led her to law school. Through Professor Gabriel Eckstein’s Water Law course, she quickly realized that “innovative solutions are going to be necessary in the coming decades, either through reuse, desalination, or more aggressive water conservation practices” for Texas to meet its growing water demand.

Article Abstract

Texas will need to adapt to a drier climate and reduced water supplies in the 21st century as the negative hydrological effects of climate change continue to accrue. Rising temperatures will accelerate evaporation of surface water resources, which in turn increases reliance on depletable groundwater resources and decreases the amount of surface water available for aquifer recharge. As a result, Texans who rely on either groundwater or surface water to meet their domestic water needs—particularly those in rural arid regions—may suffer as both quantities decrease in the coming decades. The practice of domestic water reuse presents one solution to a decreasing water supply by safely treating wastewater and creating a water source to irrigate a household’s garden or landscape that does not place additional demand on existing water supplies. The practice of water reuse is by no means a new development; however, the primary conversation has centered on municipal and large-scale reuse, not household practices. This Article seeks to bridge the information gap by highlighting and discussing the authorities relevant to domestic water reuse in Texas, including title 30, chapter 210 of the Texas Administrative Code and the water allocation doctrines of prior appropriation and rule of capture. This Article finds those authorities to be favorable to individual water reuse, however, this Article argues for regulatory and statutory amendments that will encourage and incentivize domestic water reuse. Amendments are essential if Texas wishes to make domestic water reuse accessible to households in rural arid regions of Texas, where sustainable water practices such as water reuse will undoubtedly be of great importance in the coming decades.

Varnadoe’s article departs from the popular macro lens of water analysis, focussing instead on household practices. Rural arid regions in Texas are especially vulnerable to increased resource strain. The article focuses on reducing the impact of water availability strains, such as droughts, in those regions and functions as case study, regulatory analysis, and call for action, all in one.

Varnadoe says, “The idea behind this article was to spark a conversation: how can we remove regulatory and financial barriers and get the word out about innovative water projects so that households can procure a more drought-resistant source of water?”

Varnadoe pressed the question of emerging, innovative water management practices that can help stretch a household’s water budget. She explains that her article is deeply rooted in the awareness that Texans will again experience drought conditions comparable to 2011’s record drought within our lifetimes. Varnadoe’s article helps shed light on the often missing puzzle piece of household action among the more popular targets for water management efficiency, such as state and local governments and state agencies. Texas’s water reuse framework has provided great benefits at a larger scale, such as for municipal water supplies. Now it is time for Texans to turn their attention to the household level and decentralized reuse, Vernadoe explains. Decentralized wastewater treatment may face a myriad of obstacles, from regulatory to financial to social barriers, but Vernadoe asserts that breaking down these roadblocks and paving the way for tailored solutions is essential to opening the doors to individual households having a more drought-resistant water supply.