Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

How Prop 6 Passed, and What’s Up Next for Water Projects in Texas

Speaker Joe Straus speaking on the passage of Prop 6 in Austin Tuesday evening.

Photo by Mose Buchele/StateImpact Texas

Speaker Joe Straus speaking on the passage of Prop 6 in Austin Tuesday evening.

Texans overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment Tuesday to jump-start financing for water projects in the state: Proposition 6. The plan will take $2 billion in surplus state money (from the Rainy Day Fund) to start a low-interest loan program for water projects in Texas. The measure had widespread support from both sides of the aisle as well as business and environmental groups. It passed with over 73 percent of the vote.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the members of the legislature who worked in a collaborative way on a very positive agenda for planning for our future water needs,” Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said at a rally celebrating the amendment’s passage Tuesday evening. “But the people of Texas today validated our good work with an overwhelming vote of support.” Some Libertarian and smaller environmental groups were vocally against the measure.

The creation of the water fund, overseen by the Texas Water Development Board, represents the first time in decades that the state has put significant money towards water infrastructure. The $2 billion approved this week will act like a down-payment on a mortgage that will allow the state to borrow billions more for hundreds of water projects outlined in its official Water Plan. Those projects aim to provide enough water to meet the state’s needs over the next fifty years.

 


“The problem is, we’ve never funded the water plan,” notes Paul Burka, Senior Executive Editor with Texas Monthly, who has spent decades covering the issue. “We’ve had these huge droughts but we haven’t funded it at all.” That is set to change after this week’s vote.

“It really underscored how precarious our future is when it comes to water, and how crucial it is that we shift towards a more moderate, water-efficient future,” says Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas, who supported the measure. Roughly a third of the funding in the programs are set to go towards conservation projects, an aspect of the plan that helped win support from many environmental groups.

"Now the real work beings," says Ken Kramer with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Mose Buchele

"Now the real work begins," says Ken Kramer with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The Texas Water Development Board has a few years to figure out how projects will be prioritized and approved, and what kinds of projects will fit the “conservation” label.

“Now the real work begins,” said Ken Kramer, Water Resources Chair, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club in a statement. “Texans need to become actively involved in regional water planning and in local government water supply decisions to make sure that the potential for Prop 6 to advance water conservation and enhance water planning is achieved.”

“The people who claimed that this was for conservation were talking about all these great conservation projects,” Linda Curtis, director of the Libertarian group Independent Texans, said at a small rally opposing the measure in Austin Tuesday evening. “Had they prioritized conservation and guaranteed it, we would have been supporting it. Because that’s the best, cheapest way to handle water at this point.”

Linda Curtis of Independent Texans and Jerry Locke of the Texas Drought Project watch the election returns roll in Tuesday evening. Both groups opposed the measure.

Photo by Michael Marks/StateImpact Texas

Linda Curtis of Independent Texans and Jere Locke of the Texas Drought Project watch the election returns roll in Tuesday evening. Both groups opposed the measure.

Another lingering concern will be the amount of power in the hands of three gubernatorial appointees, all tied to Rick Perry.

“The mistake that was made here was that they gave the Governor too much control over this,” Burka of Texas Monthly says. “There’s going to be a lot of suspicion about it, a lot of distrust. I do not trust anything — anything — Rick Perry does.”

There will be an Advisory Committee charged with oversight of the Water Development Board. That committee will be composed of three appointees by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House, as well as a spot for the Comptroller. But how exactly that committee will function — and how much power it will have — is an open question, a matter that will occupy the rulemaking process over the next few years. Groups like Independent Texans were against the measure because of what they call the “cronyism” of the new leadership of the Water Development Board.

“This vote marks an important first step in securing our state’s future, but the work is far from over,” Laura Huffman, Texas State Director of The Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. “We will all have to stay engaged as our communities consider strategies and projects for addressing water needs. Tackling conservation first, to reduce our water use in cities, agriculture, energy and industry will be the cheapest and smartest way to stretch our water supplies.”

And as for when the shovels and water-efficient sprinklers come out? That will likely take even longer. The board isn’t set to finalize its process for approving loans until early 2015.

Further Reading: How Texas Voted On Prop 6, and What it Could Mean for the Water Plan

Mose Buchele and Michael Marks contributed reporting. 

Comments

  • George Wagner

    I am fairly sure this is just another way to steal water from farmers, at great expense to the taxpayer, to give it to city folk who are too ignorant to realize that the water is being stolen from agriculture. These low information voters will realize their folly when they see the total at their grocery store in a few years.
    Or stated another way, wasteful and ignorant city dwellers will force us all to eat food grown in China and South America, so they can continue to waste water at an alarming rate.
    Oh, and rural dwellers can look for a tax or meter on their wells…Real stupid people!

    • BrentTH

      Hit the bricks, Clampett. I’m tired of you country folk whining and complaining about water. Why the hell shouldn’t we just buy food cheaper from other countries? But instead we just end up paying “farm welfare” to keep your nonsense feasible. City needs the water more and that’s just something you’re going to have to get used to.

      • George Wagner

        Actually, I am not a farmer. I am a Municipal Water Treatment Professional. I do KNOW where my food comes from and you obviously do not. The vast majority of food born pathogens and all of the chemically contaminated food (oh, and pet food too) has come from OS. Take a close look at the photo STUPID, figure out what that building behind me is. People the world over envy our food production as the safest and cheapest in the entire world.

        • BrentTH

          I don’t care if you do work digging wells for the water department in Hooterville. Sounds like Obama has you brainwashed with his “organic food” agenda. And I can’t figure out what the heck building is behind you in that 1 cm
          x 1 cm picture. It looks like the Astrodome or something for all I can
          tell. Another guy in lockstep with subsidized farmers. I think you really need to go and look at the facts and you might change your tune.

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