The Houston Chronicle is running a series of articles during the week of Nov. 14 on the topic of liquid gold. And, they aren’t talking about crude oil. As a matter of fact, the drought in Texas this year has brought into sharp focus just how scarce water has become and how allocation of water rights will have a major impact on the industry from drilling to processing to power generation. Battles over water rights are brewing in several states as drought conditions have drawn down water supplies in states like Texas, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. Speaking of brewing, even beer makers could have to find ways to reduce water usage going forward. It is not a new problem. However, it is being exacerbated by growing urban populations. Colorado’s Front Range has been considering what will have to happen if the water runs out. Will the state have to ban people from moving into the Centennial State if there is no spare water available? It is being considered. I can remember attending a presentation on water rights in 1974 when I was a journalism student at Oklahoma State. The speaker started out with a good-news, bad-news story. First the good news: by the end of the century people would be drinking sewage effluent. Now, the bad news: there won’t be enough of it. We are and there isn’t. As the newspaper pointed out, “reclaimed water” use in Texas is expected to grow by around 50% by 2060. It is something that most people won’t accept easily. And then there’s the energy business. You can’t run a mud pump without water. You can do hydraulic fracturing with other fluids, such as propane. Power plants need lots of water for cooling. Where is that water going to come from? Growing up in central Oklahoma, I watched a lot of wells being drilled. The companies would lay a pipe from the drilling rig to a local pond for water. Now, a lot of those ponds are dry and water is harder to find. You can tell the water tables are dropping by the number of rivers and springs that have dried up over the years. When the family water well starts producing mud, it’s time to drill a deeper well. But, there’s no guarantee you’ll find good water when you go deeper. A coal-fired power plant in Matagorda County on the Texas Gulf Coast was halted in its tracks this summer, not by emissions from burning coal, but by not enough water. The Lower Colorado River Authority put the decision on hold indefinitely this summer. Called White Stallion, the plant was redesigned to use dry cooling. It’s more expensive, but it uses considerably less water. A study by the University of Texas reported that nuclear power plants use the most water and natural gas plants use the least. Operators in the Eagle Ford have been faced with water shortages as well. And, of course, the fear of fracing operations polluting aquifers is a major news story in practically every state with shale plays. Of course, the XL Keystone pipeline is looking for a new route to avoid the Ogallala aquifer. If you’ve ever seen a map of the aquifer, you know that unless you run the pipeline south to El Paso and then east to Houston, you probably won’t be able to miss the Ogallala. Then, you’ll probably have to fight to run the pipeline through the Edwards aquifer in central Texas. The number of acres of farmland under cultivation in places like eastern Colorado is declining as farmers sell the water rights. It takes a lot of energy to pump water from those deep aquifers in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and eastern Colorado. That costs almost more than some farmers can get for their crops. Each state has rights to the water that flows in the rivers through the state. You would think that Colorado would not have any problems with water. After all, the Colorado, Arkansas, Platte and Rio Grande rivers all originate in Colorado’s mountains. The fight for water rights will get a lot worse in the years ahead. We need to start planning now if we want to be able to tap new energy resources in water-starved regions of the U.S. Or, water wells won’t be the only wells running dry. Contact the author, Scott Weeden, at sweeden@hartenergy.com.