A state representative filed legislation today to start funding new water projects in Texas, as the state continues to struggle with water supplies and drought. In two House Bills, State Rep. Allan Ritter (R-Nederland), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, advocates taking $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to start “a new, dedicated revolving fund” to finance projects in the State Water Plan, according to a statement from Ritter’s office.
“It is vital for the future of Texas that a dedicated source of revenue be established for funding the State Water Plan,” Ritter said in a statement. “Our economy depends on it, our communities depend on it, and ultimately, our daily lives depend on it.”
That’s a whole billion more than previous proposals, and Ritter maintains that it would be enough to fund all of the projects needed today from the Water Plan. (The overall plan calls for $53 billion in projects over the next fifty years, with about half of that coming from the state. The lion’s share of money is needed for municipal water projects.)
Ritter’s statement also says that at least 20 percent of the fund would be directed to “conservation and reuse efforts.” The bills “would also allow funds to be used across 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.” That could answer some of the criticism of the Water Plan: that it isn’t prioritized and some of the projects contradict each other.
Water infrastructure funding has been named one of the top priorities for the 83rd Texas Legislature by Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). Texas is currently in its third year of drought, with its reservoirs only 65 percent full overall, some of them at dangerously low levels. “Members of the Texas House understand the importance of water to business, agriculture and all Texans,” Straus said in a statement. “I am confident that the House will take bold, substantial action to address our water needs this session, and the filing of these bills formally begins that process.”
Some environmental groups and businesses alike are praising the legislation. Ken Kramer of the Sierra Club says that HB 4 “especially recognizes two very important principles that the environmental community and others have flagged as critical to our water future: the need to prioritize projects for state financial assistance and the fact that water conservation is a key component of meeting water needs.”
Bill Hammond, President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, says in a statement that “we are grateful that our state leadership, including Governor Perry, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and House Speaker Strauss, has made funding our water plan a priority this session. We believe that House Bills 4 and 11 send the message to the rest of the country that Texas is ready to do what is necessary to provide water for future population and economic growth.”
Luke Metzger of Environment Texas applauds Ritters efforts, but also advocates a focus on repairing leaky pipes as a way of securing new water supplies: “We call on Chairman Ritter and other state leaders to set aside at least half of rainy day funds for water conservation, re-use, repairs of leaking pipes and protection of flows in our rivers and water quality. Damming rivers and draining aquifers is very harmful to the environment and we need to exhaust all conservation and efficiency before we spend money on those projects. We urge the Legislature to require TWDB to prioritize conservation in awarding funding.”
Laura Huffman of the Nature Conservancy says “hats off” to Ritter:
“The Conservancy is pleased to see a package that not only helps address our growing water challenges, but clearly recognizes the important role conservation must play in those efforts. The State Water Plan forecasts that nearly a quarter of our future supply will hinge on conservation; it is by far our least expensive option when it comes to stretching our water resources further.
The Conservancy also applauds the Chairman’s efforts to establish an entirely new fund for the water plan that requires regional prioritization. In a state as large as Texas where challenges vary from east to west, and north to south, finding workable solutions at the regional level will be key to meeting water demands across the board.”