Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

What to Watch For at the Texas Legislature This Week


A man walks along Lake Travis after water receded during a drought in Austin, Texas September 10, 2011.

It’s crunch time at the Capitol, and legislators have precious little sand left in the hourglass to push bills out of committee. So you’ll see the pace pick up quite a bit in the coming weeks.

We at StateImpact Texas have compiled a not-so-short list of important bills on energy and the environment to help guide you through this period of legislative overload. (While many of the bills are set in groups, they are not listed in any particular order, and the list isn’t meant to be comprehensive.)

Texas Water Plan 

Two of the most watched bills this legislative session, HB4 and SB4, will be discussed at the Senate Natural Resources Committee meeting Tuesday morning. HB 4, by Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, would create an implementation fund for projects in the Texas water plan.

SB 4, by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, would also create a state water implementation fund and restructure the top of the Texas Water Development Board into three-member, full-time board instead of a six-member, part-time board.

Water Conservation 

If you install a water system that captures or conserves water, your taxes could get a little lower. A bill, HB 1173, by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would provide people who use systems like drip irrigation or rainwater harvesting with a tax credit. Previously: In Battle Between Lawns and HOAs, Lawmaker Files Bill to Save Water.

Another bill, HB 2133, by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, could introduce a new public policy factor that will promote the state’s use of “innovative and alternative water treatment technologies whenever possible” to meet the state’s needs, according to the bill.

Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) could also get a boost in the state. Another bill by Larson, HB 3013, would promote the use of ASR, the practice of injecting potable water underground into an aquifer instead of holding it above ground in a traditional reservoir where it’s susceptible to evaporation. Previously:¬†In Texas, Underground Reservoirs Take Hold.¬†

A bill, HB 2781, by Rep. Allan Fletcher, R-Cypress, could promote the use of rainwater harvesting on new state buildings.

All water conservation bills will be discussed at the House Natural Resources meeting Tuesday morning.

Emergency Water Assistance 

Towns and municipalities could be eligible for financial assistance due to emergency water problems. A bill, HB 3167, by Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, would make an emergency assistance program to help those with dwindling water supplies. The bill will be discussed at the House Natural Resources meeting Tuesday morning. Previously: Dry Texas Town Loses Water Truck, Straining a Lifeline. 

Water Negotiation and Neighboring States 

There has long been tension between Texas and it’s neighbors — Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Mexico — over the water that flows between them. A bill, HB 1189, by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, could lead to more negotiation over disputed water and less law suits. ¬†Previously:¬†New Bill Aims to Quiet Down Texas‚Äô Water Wars.

Both bills will be discussed at the House Natural Resources meeting Tuesday morning.

Water Wells 

Water wells used to complete oil and gas wells could be¬†exempt¬†from groundwater conservation district permitting requirements, if a¬†bill,¬†HB 3317, by¬†Rep. James Keffer, R-Eastland passes. The operator of the well would still have to comply with the groundwater conservation district’s rules (like pumping limits and withdrawal reporting) and certain fees.

A bill by¬†Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, could offer groundwater resource protection to some landowners. The bill,¬†HB 3250, would guarantee landowners a minimum amount of water in their groundwater district. “If a Groundwater Conservation District (GCD) cannot meet the minimum requirement, the¬†GCD must either (1) reduce other permits, (2) pipe water to the landowner, or (3) change the¬†desired future conditions to allow for the minimum provided.” according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The bills will both be discussed at the House Natural Resources meeting Tuesday morning.

Drought and Water Loss Planning

Also getting a hearing in that committee Tuesday are two bills from Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth. One would have water suppliers and irrigation districts create and implement drought contingency plans according to rules outlined in a bill, HB 3604.

Another Burnam bill, HB 3605, would require many public utilities seeking financial assistance that are simultaneously losing 15 percent (or more) of their water supply annually to create a plan to reduce water loss.

Groundwater, Brackish Water, Fracking Water and Desalination

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio is pushing fracking companies in Texas to use more brackish groundwater to drill wells and thereby save freshwater aquifers for other uses, with his bill, HB 3718.

Texas could be taking a closer look at seawater desalination. A resolution, HCR 59, by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, would require Texas’ top officials to create a joint interim committee to study seawater desalination. Previously:¬†Un-salting the Earth: Jerry Patterson‚Äôs Desalination Ambitions.

It could be easier for entities to use brackish marine water or groundwater. A bill, HB 2334, by Rep. Callegari would make it unnecessary to permit for the appropriation of most brackish water. Entities would also not be required to obtain a permit to put that brackish water back into a water flow, like a creek or river, so long as the water is treated to drinking standards.

A bill by Rep. Larson could promote the use of brackish water around Texas. The bill, HB 2578, would require regional planning groups to submit plans to the Water Development Board that would indicate if brackish water exists in the region and could be developed.

Water well users could be required to keep track of the amount water they pull out of the ground. A bill, HB 2577, by Rep. Larson would require records to be kept of water taken from wells. The records would be reported to water districts and to the Texas Water Development Board.

Another bill by Larson, HB 2752, would define advanced brackish desalination projects and make them eligible for financing from the Texas Water Development Board.

All of the bills will be heard at the House Natural Resources meeting that starts Tuesday morning.


Residential Water Tax 

Residential customers using large amounts of water could be hit with a fee. A bill, HB 2708, by Rep. Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio, could create a tax for residential water users on the amount of water they use above a three-month, 81,000 gallon threshold. Also up at the House Natural Resources meeting Tuesday morning.

Texan Land and Oil and Gas Drilling 

Legislation by Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton, could entitle landowners in Texas to compensation for damage to their property as a result of oil and gas drilling. The bill, HB 2633, defines a myriad of potential damages including reduction of land value and loss of agricultural income.

Another bill by Rep. Lon Burnam could require more disclosure of drilling practices to those living and working near oil and gas wells. The bill, HB 3599, would require drilling companies to provide notice to those living and working within 1,000 feet of a well. The bill would also restrict the type of well that can be used in close proximity to residences and businesses and also limit certain emissions.

Another Burnam bill, HB 3600, would, among other things, require oil and gas drillers to give landowners nearby a possible well notice prior to surveying the land.

These drilling bills will be discussed at the House Energy Resources Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Alternative Energy 

Some public schools could be using more alternative energy in the future. A bill, HB 3214, by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, could provide incentives for solar and wind power to go to public schools. An extra fee on electricity use would gather funds for the project. The bill will be discussed at the House Energy Resources Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Recycling Electronic Waste

A bill, HB 3465, by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, would require electronics recyclers (computers and televisions) in Texas to abide by independent certification standards such as¬†“Responsible Recycling Practices for Use in Accredited Certification Programs for Electronic Recyclers.”

Another Bohac bill, HB 3466, would require reporting to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) electronic waste shipped outside the U.S. for disposal.

Both electronics recycling bills will be discussed at the House Environmental Regulations Committee meeting Tuesday morning.

Powers of the Attorney General

A bill, HB 3117, by Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Garland, could give the State Attorney General, among other things, power to settle some environmental lawsuits under Texas’ water code without the consent or approval of local governments.

Another Burkett bill, HB 3119, would amend the water code so that “a local government that is a public agency may not enter into a contingent fee contract for legal services in certain environmental enforcement actions,” according to the fiscal note attached to the bill.

Both Burkett bills will be at the House Environmental Regulations Committee meeting Tuesday morning.

David Barer is a reporting intern with StateImpact Texas.


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