If you could speed-watch the past 15 years in Texas—set your thumb on the edge of a flipbook and let ‘er rip—you’d see astonishing growth. Buildings going up, fields paved over for parking lots, new subdivisions, new schools, new malls: The state’s population grew by 36 percent between 1997 and 2012. Watch the red lines that chart the state’s economy go up, up, up. Last year, Texas' gross domestic product grew by 3.7 percent, nearly double the national rate.
But at what cost? A new report from Texas A&M’s Institute of Renewable Natural Resources indicates that Texas is losing its open spaces faster than any other state in the union: About 1.1 million acres between 1997 and 2012. And while the loss of “working lands”—privately owned farms, ranches or forests—is a song to developers’ ears, researchers say those lands are vital to the states’ water supply. In a Republic that’s grappling with a historic drought, thirsty Texans should be paying attention.