You Can’t Say They Don’t Care What You Think – Public Input on HB 4

Last November Texas voters overwhelming approved Proposition 6 – a proposed state constitutional amendment that created a new state water fund for water projects in the state water plan. Approval of “Prop 6” indirectly transferred $2 billion from the state’s “rainy day” fund into this new State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) to provide water for “non-rainy” days.

But just moving money around doesn’t create water. That’s why what’s happening now at the state’s Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is so important. When Texas legislators proposed Prop 6 to the voters in 2013 they also passed House Bill 4 (HB 4). HB 4 tasks TWDB with administering the SWIFT and sets out some of the basic provisions by which decisions are to be made about how SWIFT monies may be used to assist water projects and strategies.

Even HB 4 doesn’t answer all the questions, however, about how SWIFT is supposed to work and which water projects should have the highest priority for state financial assistance. TWDB has to adopt rules to provide more guidance to answer these questions. The Legislature directed TWDB to put those rules into effect by March 2015.

However, the over-achievers at TWDB don’t want to wait that long. TWDB has vowed to finalize the HB 4 rules by December of this year.

To achieve that ambitious goal the leadership at TWDB has been conducting an active outreach to Texans to seek suggestions for the new rules before the agency even prepares a draft for formal proposal. The TWDB Board held work sessions in Conroe, Lubbock, and Harlingen to hear directly from the public on how to implement HB 4. TWDB staff held three “open to anyone” stakeholder meetings in Austin in January,February, and March that featured wide ranging discussions of issues that need to be addressed in the HB 4 rules.

Among those issues were basic questions like what is a “conservation” project? HB 4 says that TWDB should use not less than 20% of SWIFT funds for conservation or reuse projects, but how do you define “conservation” – is it things like installing high-efficiency toilets and fixing leaking pipes, or does it include activities like rainwater harvesting, brush management, and aquifer storage & recovery (ASR)? [Answers from the environmental community: yes, yes, probably, maybe but it depends, and absolutely not, even if it’s a good thing to do!]

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has participated actively in this process and has submitted a detailed set of comments to TWDB on HB 4 implementation. The Club’s comments put the emphasis on conservation as the first priority for TWDB funding. But the Club notes that regional water planning groups and water utilities have to make conservation a priority also to realize the full potential of SWIFT to help Texans use water more efficiently. Sierra Club recommends that the Best Management Practices guides maintained by the state’s Water Conservation Advisory Council be a source of information about which practices most likely constitute “conservation.”

Others have weighed in with suggestions about HB 4 implementation as well. For example, Texas Tech Law School student John Eisler submitted to TWDB a thoughtful paper (“The Case for PACE”) about how Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs might be integrated with SWIFT financing to promote water conservation.

If you care about our state’s water future, there’s still time for you to make informal input on HB 4 and SWIFT to TWDB through an online portal on the agency website. The sooner you provide your comments, the better.

There will be another opportunity to comment later during the formal rulemaking process. TWDB staff is expected to take a draft set of HB 4 rules to the agency Board in June for approval to publish in the Texas Register for a 30-day public review and comment. Check the TWDB website for updates.

Just keep in mind – if we’re going to successfully navigate the journey to a secure water future for Texas, we need all oars in the water. Now is your chance to help paddle!

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