Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Where are the Water Projects that Are Asking For $5.5 Billion in State Loans?

Counties that contain at least one project applying for state funds are highlighted in blue.

Mose Buchele

Counties that contain at least one project applying for state funds are highlighted in blue.

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) had planned to distribute about $800 million in low interest loans for Texas water projects this year. By the time the deadline for project applications closed, total requests reached $5.5 billion, many of them from urban and suburban parts of the state.

The new system of financing was set up by state lawmakers and approved by voters in 2013. Under that system, billions of dollars were moved from the Texas Rainy Day Fund and put into a separate fund for water. The Water Development Board plans to distribute about $800 million dollars in loans every year for the next ten year.

The 48 projects eligible for loans this year range from modest to mighty. The City of Marfa asked for $700,000 to build a single well, but the North Texas Municipal Water District requested $791 million for the under-construction, 16,500 acre Lower Bois d’Arc reservoir.

Applications from the greater Houston metropolitan area comprise one third of the total requests received by the Water Development Board.  The sixteen projects around Harris County alone add up to $3 billion in loan requests. Projects in the Dallas Fort Work area made up about ten percent of all requests.

Meanwhile, local government and water district in the Texas Panhandle didn’t submit any applications, even though parts of that region remain in exceptional drought.

C.E. Williams, chairman of the Panhandle Regional Planning Group and general manager of the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District, says that’s because the City of Amarillo and the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority have received “significant amounts of money” from the Development Board in recent years. “That really got them up to date. Really they had no additional projects that needed to be funded at this time.”

Amarillo recently received $8.9 million from the Development Board’s state revolving fund for a wastewater treatment initiative.

Andy Saenz, spokesperson for the TWDB, said the board is happy with the response.

“Based on the population projections the TWDB does for water planning, the Dallas and Houston areas account for over half of the state’s population growth through 2070,” Saenz wrote in an email, “Therefore, the need for water projects in those areas is significant.”

Next, the Water Development Board will have to figure out what projects to fund and how to stretch its $800 million this year to cover the deluge of proposals.

The Board would consider providing staggered funding over several years to help kick start more projects than the $800 million goal might appear to allow, says Saenz. But the first step is to judge which applications are will get any money at all.

Saenze says the TWDB will ask questions like “how big of a population are you going to serve? Did you put some thought into regionalization so that it serves not just your community but communities around you? Are you willing to put in some of your own money into this project so that we can make our money go farther?”

The TWDB hopes to start cutting checks for project by this fall.



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