Legislative Update: Five Good, Five Troublesome Water Bills in the Last Few Days of the Texas State Legislative Session

SC

Updated Release: Tuesday, May 28, 2013:

For More Information:
Ken Kramer, Water Resources Chair, 512-626-4204 (cell)
Jennifer Walker, Water Resources Coordinator, 512-627-9931 (cell)

Update by Ken Kramer, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Water Resources Chair, on Five Good, Five Troublesome Water Bills as of Sine Die

“As the regular state legislative session concluded, much of the focus on water legislation was on funding the state’s water plan. The Sierra Club supported the final passage of HB 4 and SJR 1. We supported the allocation of $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to a new state water fund that was made in HB 1025, which will be effective upon passage of a state constitutional amendment.

“In addition to grappling with the water funding issue the Texas Legislature passed other significant legislation to advance water conservation and curb water loss by water utilities. Equally important the Legislature turned down many other bills that would have been problematic for managing and protecting our state’s existing water resources.

“In April we identified five good water bills and five problematic ones under consideration in the Legislature. Here is our update on those bills. Most of the good ones passed in one form or another, and most of the troublesome ones did not survived. Here is an update on the bills. Final action on the bills that passed rests with the Governor, who could veto a bill, sign a bill into law, or allow a bill to become law without his signature.”

Update on Five Good Water Bills Highlighted in April:

SB 198
(Watson/Dukes) – enables property owners in a homeowners association (HOA) to install drought resistant landscaping or water-conserving natural turf, subject to approval of a landscaping plan by the HOA – SB 198 passed both houses and has been sent to the Governor.

HB 857 (Lucio III/Ellis) – requires annual water audits by retail water utilities with more than 3300 connections to determine their water loss and submittal of those audits to the Texas Water Development Board – HB 857 passed both houses and has been sent to the Governor.

HB 3605 (Burnam/Hegar) – addresses water loss in retail water utilities through state financial assistance programs of the Texas Water Development Board – HB 3605 passed both houses and has been sent to the Governor.

SB 873 (Hegar) – would have clarified the authority of groundwater districts to require permits for the drilling or operation of water wells where the water is supplied for hydraulic fracturing for oil or gas –SB 873 was amended and passed the Senate but did not get a hearing in the House (some groundwater districts became concerned that the revised language actually undercut their authority); so the bill died.

SB 1169 (Hegar/Bonnen) – as initially filed, the bill called for strengthening the role of the state Water Conservation Advisory Council, requiring retail water utilities receiving state financial assistance to address water loss, and requiring implementation of drought contingency plans when a drought emergency is declared – SB 1169 passed the Senate and was favorably reported from the House Natural Resources Committee in its original form; however, the bill was significantly altered on the House floor. House Members adopted amendments that would require the state Water Conservation Advisory Council be reviewed by the Sunset Commission for the first time in 2015; removed all other provisions of the original bill, added revised language from another House bill to create the Brazos River Water Master Program, and added a water use reporting requirement for electric generating facilities. The Senate never acted to concur with House amendments nor did it request a conference committee with the House, so the bill died.

Update on Five Troublesome Water Bills Highlighted in April:

HB 824 (Callegari/Hegar) – would have eliminated the requirement that all sewer overflows be reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) within 24 hours (threshold for reporting would have been more than 1000 gallons; overflows below that level would have been exempted from reporting) – HB 824 was amended and passed the House but died in Senate Natural Resources Committee.

HB 1079 (Smith/Hancock) – limits the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and public review of uranium mining operations that might impact groundwater quality – HB 1079 was revised but there are still concerns about adequate review of production area authorizations; the bill passed both houses and has been sent to the Governor

HB 2334 (Callegari) – would have exempted the development of brackish water or marine water from certain state and/or groundwater district permitting or other regulatory requirements – HB 2334 was not considered on the House Floor but was amended onto HB 2578 by the House. The amended bill died in Senate Natural Resources Committee.

HB 3234 (Ritter/Fraser) – would have set unrealistic deadlines for the processing of water rights permits that could lead to inadequate review of permit applications and might interfere with the public’s opportunity to impact permitting decisions – HB 3234 was voted down in Senate Natural Resources Committee.

SB 1894 (Fraser) – would have prevented revision and possible strengthening of adopted state standards for instream flows and freshwater inflows to bays and estuaries until at least 2022 – SB 1894 was withdrawn from Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing agenda and never seen again.

Special Note on Other Good Water Bills:
In addition to the five good water bills highlighted in April, other bills have passed or are passing that will advance water conservation, proper water management, and/or public awareness of water – among those bills are (more details will be provided later): HB 1461 (Aycock/Fraser), HB 2615 (Johnson/Fraser), HB 2781 (Fletcher/ Campbell), HB 3604 (Burnam/(Hegar), SB 385 (Carona/Keffer), SB 654 (West/Anchia), and SB 700 (Hegar/Kacal).

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