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Future of Water in Texas

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the last several years, you probably have heard that Texas has been facing a severe water crisis. You don’t need to be an expert hydrologist to understand this; after all this is Texas, where sizzling temperatures and dry conditions have always been a part of living in the desert southwest.

Most of you will remember that 2011 was the driest year in Texas history; the state reportedly only averaged 14.88 inches of rainfall that year. However, this is not the first time the state has faced water crises of that magnitude. In 1917, Texas averaged only .11 inches higher than in 2011, making average rainfall for that year only 14.99 inches. These numbers indicate a continuous struggle that Texas has had with water preservation for several decades, so it’s time for Texans to take action on a better water plan for the state.

Earlier this year, the Texas State Legislature passed a resolution that will allow the state to use its Rainy Day Fund to finance $2 billion dollars’ worth of water projects across Texas (referred to as the State Water Implementations Fund or “SWIFT”). That measure will be put up to Texas voters as constitutional amendment (Proposition 6) for the November 5th election. This ballot measure will be Texas’ first attempt to finance a statewide, long-term plan for water supply and water conservation.

So if voters were to approve this effort, what would that mean for Texans? Here is some language, as taken from the Prop 6 official website:

“The constitutional amendment providing for the creations of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas to assist in the financing of priority projects in the state water plan to ensure the availability of adequate water resources.”

Enabling legislation that becomes law if Prop 6 passes provides that:

  • Not less than 20% of the funds shall go to water conservation or reuse projects;
  • Not less than 10% of the funds shall go to water projects in rural areas, which may include agricultural water conservation projects;
  • Only projects called for in the regional and state water plans will be eligible for this funding, and those projects must be prioritized at the regional and state levels based on factors such as cost-effectiveness and the effect of the project on water conservation and prevention of water losses.

So on November 5, voters have the opportunity approve billions of dollars to craft a borrowing-and-lending system for water projects here in Texas. There does not appear to be a specific list of projects that will be given the green light assuming this plan passes, this amendment would simply allow voters to put state money into a fund for water supplies and water conservation.

How the money will be apportioned is still unknown,” said Ronald Kaiser to the Houston Chronicle, “people are putting all their faith in the water board.” Kaiser is Professor of Water Law and Policy at Texas A&M University.

The 2012 version of the State Water Plan highlights 562 water projects; which include reservoirs, water treatment, and watershed protection roughly costing $53 billion dollars, of which the state would be expected to provide loans for half of that amount (the loans would have to be paid back to the state by local and regional water suppliers). This high cost, which could be pared by more aggressive water conservation efforts, indicates that the state needs to be smart about allocating the necessary funds to complete proposed projects and needs to evaluate projects more closely.

Last week, Governor Perry took the stand in North Texas, urging voters to pass Prop 6. With the state population expected to double in the next five decades, Governor Perry has rounded up a bi-partisan group of supporters to rally for the passage of Proposition 6 in Texas.

Through this process we’re going to be able to turn two billion dollars in seed money that’s in the Rainy Day Fund into 30-billion dollars’ worth of water projects across our state,” he said.  “We can’t make it rain, but we can take measure to extend our existing water supply and work to develop new supplies.”

Rifling through the endorsements of proposition 6, one can find quite the laundry list of corporations, businesses, non-profits, and environmental advocates all throwing their name in the hat in support of this amendment.

Some of the organizations that have endorsed Prop 6 include: the League of Women Voters, The Nature Conservancy, Texas AFL-CIO, Ducks Unlimited, numerous businesses and trade associations, the Texas Farm Bureau, as well as the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. The diversity of support for this measure reflects the critical need to plan for our future water resources wisely in an increasingly drought-plagued state.

The Sierra Club supports passage of Prop 6 because of the commitment that state legislators have made to water conservation and to prioritization of water projects in the administration of the new state water funds,” said Ken Kramer, State Water Resources Chair of the Sierra Club, “It is important that the commitments to conservation are honored in the implementation of Prop 6, but voter approval of Prop 6 will be an important first step toward meeting the state’s water needs, and we urge Texas voters to cast their ballots for Prop 6.”

The answer is clear: Texas definitely needs to act on its water crisis problem. We all can agree that with a growing population and increasingly drier weather conditions, water needs to be at the forefront of our priorities here in the state.

Click HERE to view the official press release from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Early voting: October 21 – November 1

Election Day: November 5.  

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