The Texas State Water Plan has been described as a $53 billion dollar wish list. It’s full of local projects, proposed by regional water districts. They are meant to be enough to secure water for Texas for 50 years. But those projects remain largely unprioritized and unfunded.
Now state legislators say they are serious about funding the plan, but what projects may receive money remains a mystery.
On Wednesday two lawmakers, Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horshoe Bay) and Rep. Allan Ritter (R-Nederland) provided some hints at a Public Forum Hosted by the Texas Association of Realtors, the Austin Board of Realtors and the group H204TX.
First off, funding.
Both Ritter and Fraser want to pull $2 Billion dollars from the state’s rainy day fund. The state would give that money out as loans so that regional entities can jumpstart their water projects. Without money from the fund, Senator Fraser says the whole thing would probably fall apart.
“We think this is the vehicle to get us there, and we’re going to try to ride this horse,” said Fraser. “So I think it would be counterproductive to start talking about a Plan B until we know a Plan A is not going to work.”
Though some worry that money taken from the Rainy Day Fund could count against spending limits enshrined in the state constitution, making it harder to access, Rep. Ritter said he did not think that would be a problem.
And in case it is a problem, other bills have been filed to free it from counting against that cap. Just yesterday a bill from Rep. Donna Howard filed one to allow access to the fund for the state’s infrastructure needs.
But What If…
So let’s just pretend for a second that they get the money. The next question is this: out of the over 500 different plans that different regions want funded, how does the Texas Water Development Board decide what to fund? Sen. Fraser says it’s all about priorities.
“We’ve been going back to the Water Development Board, saying, ‘Cut this down. What is your top ten, your top twenty projects for your population? What is that top ten, top twenty, from a needs standpoint?’” he said.
After the lawmakers left the event, Lewis McMahan, a member of the State Water Development Board, gave some specifics. He said projects were being ranked on their timing, presumably how fast they could be ramped up, how much they are needed. And the degree to which they rely on conservation, it being by far the cheapest way to create more water resources for the state.
One question McMahan couldn’t answer was how the money would be protected form being diverted to other uses. As departments and state agencies with dedicated funds know well, many times money that’s meant to go to one purpose can be ‘swept’ into another once it reaches the budgeting process at the capital.
Keeping that from happening to a fund for the Water Plan is “up to the legislators,” said McMahan.
Want to learn more about how the Texas legislature can deal with the state’s water issues?
Join us in Austin Monday for a special panel, ‘The Texas Water Crisis: Finding and Funding a Solution.’ You’ll have the opportunity to hear from lawmakers firsthand and ask your own questions. We’ll have State Rep. Lyle Larson and others on hand to discuss the issues. We’ll be at the Cactus Cafe at UT Austin Monday, January 28th. Doors open at 5:30 pm and the event begins at 6 pm. You can RSVP on Facebook here.