Making sure Texans have a clean and plentiful water supply is a priority for state leaders during this legislative session, and they are ready to invest heavily to ensure it happens.
Bills in both the House and Senate, filed by the chairmen of the Natural Resources Committee in each of those chambers, would create a revolving low-interest fund for water projects that would help local governments develop infrastructure, desalination, conservation-based water plans and other projects.
“Since 1997 with Senate Bill 1, the state of Texas started a regional approach to creating a statewide water plan, which would ensure the needs of future Texans are met,” said Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, Senate Natural Resources Committee chairman, at a public hearing last week. “Over the past 12 years, the Legislature has tried and been unsuccessful to fund the statewide water plan. Senate Bill 4 is the groundwork for hopefully, finally, getting the state water plan funded so that we can rest easy that our children and grandchildren will have water they need, and the Texas economy can continue to thrive.”
Gov. Rick Perry, House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have all said they support using money—up to $2 billion—from the state’s rainy day reserves to kick-start a fund that would help local entities pay for projects.
State Water Plan
The State Water Plan is redrawn every five years using a “bottom-up” planning process with local stakeholders representing areas such as agriculture, the environment, industry, river authorities, water districts and others in 16 regional groups.
Those groups anticipate what their water needs will be during the next 50 years and create a plan, which they then submit to the state to create the State Water Plan.
The State Water Plan is different from a statewide water plan, which is what leaders are working on to help fund those projects—currently 562 of them.
Funding is a problem—local municipalities or governments sometimes have to delay projects when they need to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars, with some individual projects reaching into hundreds of millions of dollars and costing the state tens of billions during the next few decades.
State Water Implementation Fund
The proposed legislation creates a State Water Implementation Fund that would help local governments pay for the projects.
“Our projections show that $2 billion would fully implement the State Water Plan as it exists today,” said Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, House Natural Resources Committee chairman. “With that one-time capital investment, we could provide adequate, meaningful funding to the plan and achieve the state’s goals of supporting local entities in the implementation of projects."
In addition to traditional water supply projects, the bills would set aside at least 20 percent of the new revolving fund for conservation and reuse efforts.
The bills would also allow funds to be used throughout the various water-financing programs offered by the Water Development Board to ensure that as the state's water demands and plans change, the funding support can adapt.
"It is vital for the future of Texas that a dedicated source of revenue be established for funding the State Water Plan," Ritter said. "Our economy depends on it, our communities depend on it, and ultimately, our daily lives depend on it."