By Mike Barnett
The Legislature took a significant step last week toward meeting Texas’ future water needs as the House Committee on Natural Resources passed a bill to jump start water projects in Texas, as reported in Texas Farm Bureau’s Austin Newsletter.
The multi-year drought that caused over $7.6 billion in agricultural losses in 2011 alone and is drying up water sources for many Texas towns and cities has drawn the attention of our lawmakers in Austin. HB 4 by Representative Allan Ritter (R-Nederland) proposes that $2 billion be used from the Rainy Day Fund to create a revolving loan program so communities can begin working on projects outlined in the State Water Plan.
A problem has been winnowing down the list—which includes more than 560 projects at an estimated cost of $53 billion—to get the biggest bang for the buck.
HB 4 does just that. Here’s five things you should know about the amended proposal:
- The bill creates a State Water Implementation Fund to finance revolving loan programs for water infrastructure and conservation projects through the State Water Plan.
- The bill requires the 16 regional water planning groups to prioritize water projects in their regional plans. It then requires the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to rank projects in the State Water Plan according to a point system that places the highest priority on projects that serve large populations, provide assistance to a diverse urban or rural population or provide regionalization.
- The TWDB must also consider other factors, including amount of the local contribution to finance the project, financial capacity of the applicant to repay, whether there’s an emergency and others.
- HB 4 requires that 20 percent of the projects be dedicated to water conservation and reuse.
- HB 4 asks that at least 10 percent of the fund be used for projects designed to serve rural areas.
Is HB 4 perfect? No. Although it’s an important start, this water project funding bill is a work in progress. The full House must consider it. Then there’s compromise with a Senate version. Although Texas Farm Bureau policy supports HB 4, we’re going to keep an eye on it to ensure the future needs of rural communities and agriculture aren’t lost in the process.