Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

David Barer


David Barer is an intern at StateImpact Texas

  • Email: TX_david@stateimpact.org

A Brief History of the Texas Water Plan

REUTERS/Calle Richmond /LANDOV

E.V. Spence Reservoir in Robert Lee Texas is running dry. The latest iteration of the Texas Water Plan could help Texas' water supply, if it is funded.

During the worst of the Texas drought, in 2011, when temperatures soared, dessicated lake beds cracked open, rivers dried to a trickle and several towns nearly ran out of water, Texas Governor Rick Perry asked all Texans to pray for rain.

It was not a novel remedy to Texas’ recurring drought problem. Nearly 60 years earlier, in 1953, Governor Allen Shivers asked all of Texas’ ministers to pray for precipitation.

In addition to prayers, the drought of record — as the 1950s drought is known — also spurred Texas officials to write the first State Water Plan, forecasting Texas’ water needs in the coming decades. In November, Texans will decide whether to put $2 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to a contemporary version of that plan. So now may be a good time to look back the history of the water plan, its successes and failures, before making that choice.

Glancing back at those old water plans, one can see a document that shaped enduring features of the Texas landscape. But back when officials wrote the first plan, Texas was a different state, says Andy Sansom, Director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.

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Quarantine in South Texas as Mexican Fruit Fly Invades, Again

Photo courtesy of the USDA http://bit.ly/10mLkc8

Recently larval Mexican fruit flies were spotted in Texas.

Don’t let its size fool you, the Mexican Fruit Fly is a serious threat to Texas’ agriculture.

Authorities spotted larval Mexican Fruit Flies in South Texas and quarantined an 85 square mile area to contain the dangerous pest and its insidious larvae, according to the Texas Register.

The quarantine is one of many used over the years as part of a strategy to stave off an infestation of the fly, a pest with the potential to devastate an integral part of the South Texas economy. But while Texas and federal agencies use a variety of methods to keep the little bug at bay, some measures can adversely affect farmers.

“In terms of what the quarantine means, first of all, it’s the extra cost,” says Ray Prewett, President of Texas Citrus Mutual.

A fruit quarantine isn’t like a human quarantine for a disease, Prewett told StateImpact Texas, it’s not as if nothing can leave the quarantine zone. The fruit can leave, but it has to be fumigated or sprayed. That costs money. Also, fumigating the fruit early in the season can cause cosmetic damage to the peel. Fortunately, this year’s quarantine was instituted late in the season so not much fruit will be affected.

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Severe Weather Likely in Texas Into Tuesday Evening


A massive tornado tore through Moore, Oklahoma Monday. Weather forecasters anticipate more severe weather will hit Central Texas on Tuesday afternoon and evening.

A day after a massive tornado ripped through Central Oklahoma, the National Weather Service predicts severe storms will move across a swath of Central and North Texas Tuesday afternoon and evening.

There is potential for tornadoes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The Weather Service’s Fort Worth office recorded 55 mph winds early Tuesday afternoon, according to the Service’s Twitter account.

In Central Texas there could be isolated chances of tornadoes, said Mark Lenz, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

“The main threat is large hail, golf-ball size or larger,” Lenz told StateImpact Texas.

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What’s Moved, What Hasn’t, and What Comes Next at the Texas Lege

DPA /Landov

As the final week of the 83rd Legislative Session kicks into gear we can expect a flurry of activity at the Capitol. Lawmakers will be trying to pass a slew of bills that could affect Texas' water, energy and environment.

With precious little time left in Texas’ 83rd Legislative session, lawmakers will be working this week to vote still-living bills out of the House and Senate.

StateImpact Texas has compiled a short list of some bills related to water, energy and the environment that have made it through or may still have a shot. (This list is not meant to be comprehensive.)

Water Bills

SJR 1, by Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie and Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland would create a State Water Implementation Fund through a constitutional amendment. The fund would assist in financing water projects outlined in the State Water Plan. Another bill designed to finance water infrastructure, HB 11, died in the House in late April. SJR 1 failed to be brought to the floor on Monday. Tuesday is the last day for it to be voted on in Second reading in the House.

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What’s Happening This Week at the Texas Legislature

Matt Stamey Staff photographer, Gainesville Sun /Landov

Several bills pertaining to water, the environment and public policy will be discussed at the Texas Capitol this week.

In the gauntlet that is the Texas Legislature, the bills that have made it this far are looking at the final few obstacles in the way of becoming law.

StateImpact Texas has compiled a short list of bills pertaining to water, the environment and energy that could be heard by House and Senate this week.

HB 788 by Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, would put the job of permitting greenhouse gas emissions into the hands of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Permitting is currently done by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Proponents of the bill, namely oil and gas interests, say the TCEQ could issue permits more quickly and alleviate the bottleneck of projects. Opponents the bill, like the Sierra Club and Public Citizen, say the legislation takes out contested case hearings that allow regular citizens to voice their opposition to certain projects. The bill has already passed the House, and was placed on the Senate calendar Monday for a second reading. Continue Reading

Smaller Water Bills Flow Through the House, But Big Funding Misses Out

MATT STAMEY/Gainesville Sun /Landov

The Texas House passed several bills this week that could affect Texas' water and how it is used.

The flow of water legislation continued this week as the House passed several bills that could affect one of Texas’ dearest natural resources. Thursday was the deadline for most bills originating in the House to come to floor for a vote. (The Senate has some more time, however.)

StateImpact Texas compiled a short list of some notable water bills that were passed out of the House and now head to the Senate for consideration.

However, one bill that would have put big money towards water projects in Texas is notably absent from the list. HB 11, by state Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, a landmark piece of water legislation that would have used $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to finance water projects across Texas, was sunk last week.

Now Floating Towards the Senate

It was a positive week for Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. Three water-related bills of his were passed. Continue Reading

Texas House Approves Bill Ending Comptroller’s Endangered Species Duties

U.S. Fish and Wildlife

The blind salamander is one of Texas' endangered species. A new bill passing through the House could move Texas' endangered species monitoring duties from the Comptroller to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Update: HB 3509 passed out of the state House Thursday, the final day for bills to be voted out.

Earlier: The Texas House could vote today on a bill that would strip the Texas Comptroller’s office of its endangered species monitoring duties and send the job over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Advocates of the legislation, like Bill Stevens, a government affairs consultant for the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers who lobbied for the bill, say the switch could help keep potential species off the endangered species list. The listing of species can invite federal intrusion and hinder business.

“We need a more transparent and broader state-government involvement,” Stevens told StateImpact.

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With Fate of Water Plan in Limbo, House Committee Pushes Smaller Water Bills

Photo credit: Reuters / Gene Blevins / LANDOV

A supercell storm west of Newcastle, Texas tries to build up strength April 9, 2013. The Texas Legislature passed a couple bills regarding water Wednesday but stopped short of discussing landmark bill HB 11.

Quicker than a spring thunderstorm, the House Natural Resources Committee met and pushed forward several bills at the Capitol this morning. While several smaller pieces of legislation were approved, representatives at the meeting managed to avoid talk of HB 11, a marquee piece of water legislation torpedoed on the House floor Monday evening.

A bill promoting rainwater collection and another regarding water loss reporting by utilities were “voted favorably as substituted.” In other words, they were voted out of committee.

The rainwater collection bill, HB 2781 by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, would allow people with a public water supply connection to collect rainwater for potable purposes.

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Hotter Radioactive Waste Could Be Coming To Texas


A man dressed as a nuclear waste drum stands in front of protesters holding hands on March 9, 2013 in the center of Paris. New legislation in Texas could promote the importation of more radioactive waste.

Update, May 1, 2013: The Senate has passed SB 791. The bill could allow states around the U.S. to import more of the “hotter” radioactive waste into a West Texas disposal facility and limit contested case hearings. Several amendments to the bill were passed, including ones that would make generators of radioactive waste responsible for the cost of transportation accident cleanup, allow for random audits of shipments of radioactive waste into the site and affect the Compact Commission Executive Director’s ability to modify disposal licenses. The bill now moves to the House Environmental Regulation Committee. 

Original story, March 26, 2013: A controversial new bill could encourage states from around the country to send waste with higher levels of radiation to Texas. The legislation prompted some heated debate at a Senate Natural Resources Committee meeting today at the Capitol.

The bill, SB 791, by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would allow “hotter” radioactive waste into West Texas’ only radioactive waste disposal site, which started running last year after many years of controversy and debate, which continued in part today. Continue Reading

Comptroller’s Endangered Species Duties Could Go to Wildlife Department

Photo courtesy of US Fish adn Wildlife Service

The Lesser Prairie Chicken was proposed for listing as "threatened" recently by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Comptroller Susan Combs, Texas’ top accountant and tax official, doesn’t just deal with money: she’s also in charge of monitoring endangered species.

It’s an odd coupling, money manager and critter caretaker, and a new piece of legislation could undo the two disparate duties. The Senate Natural Resources Committee discussed a bill, SB 468, at a meeting Tuesday that would send Texas’ endangered species monitoring duties over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and create a fund to finance research.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the author of the bill, said the transfer of duties should streamline the monitoring and research and save the state money, among other things.

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