Texas Water: Looking ahead to a Busy 2014

ImageWater has always been a big issue in Texas and we expect that 2014 will be no different.  The Lone Star Chapter has  taken a proactive interest in water policy development at both the local and state levels.  Our principle issue areas are: 1) advocating for sound science and policies that protect Texas’ rivers, bays and estuaries; 2) promoting water conservation and proactive drought response as responsible water supply strategies; and 3) advocating for sustainable groundwater management.  It should come as no surprise that 2014 will be a big year for water policy development and implementation.

Before we charge into 2014, it is worth a quick review of a couple of 2013’s big water issues.  This past summer marked the third year of a continuing statewide drought, which meant that Texas faced some difficult realities.  Our shortage of water forced users to evaluate their usage in relation to others, and we were reminded that water is a shared resource.  This was particularly true along the Colorado River where the Lower Colorado River Authority wrestled with how to address continued water supply shortage.  The Board voted to suspend water for the downstream rice farmers and threatened to cut off freshwater inflows into Matagorda Bay.   Luckily, because of some rain and a large public outcry, the latter crisis was averted.  We are not out of the woods yet and will continue to closely monitor this situation in 2014.

One of the biggest water policy issues of 2013 was the legislative passage of HB4, its accompanying water-supply funding bills and the subsequent successful statewide election on Proposition 6.  This constitutional amendment allowed for the transfer of $2 billion from the State’s Economic Stabilization (Rainy Day) Fund to the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT).  The money will be made available in low interest loans to support water projects identified in the State Water Plan.  In 2014, the Texas Water Development Board will develop rules that implement HB4.  They will hold stakeholder meetings across the state to get input on how the legislation should be implemented.  The Sierra Club is invested in the outcome of this rulemaking and plans to participate at all stages of the process to advocate for the best possible result for this important legislation.

As we enter 2014, the drought continues for much of the state and many important policy decisions are on the horizon.  Among these are the careful implementation of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan, development of progressive 2016 Regional Water Plans, addressing environmental flows through SB3 stakeholder groups, and endangered species litigation, to name a few.  The Sierra Club works cooperatively with the National Wildlife Federation on the Texas Living Waters Project to advance our policy and management goals in Texas.  You can follow our work through this newsletter, by visiting our water project website at http://www.texaslivingwaters.org and by subscribing to our blog.

If you are interested in volunteering on water issues or want information on how to advocate for good local policies in your area please contact me at jennifer.walker@sierraclub.org.

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