5 things you should know about HB 4, Texas’ water funding bill

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.

Stay tuned.

Mike Barnett

Director of Publications
Texas Farm Bureau
I’m a firm believer that farmers and ranchers will continue to meet the needs of a growing world population by employing equal measures of common sense, conservation and technology.
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4 Responses to “5 things you should know about HB 4, Texas’ water funding bill”

  1. Robert Domitz says:

    What is the TFB’s view of the State Water Plan?

    As I looked through it, a few things stood out:
    1. We do not have enough water for future needs.
    2. Projects to improve the supply of water will cost big bucks.
    3. Population centers get scarce water, agriculture gets shorted.

    They are assuming that through better irrigation practices, agriculture will use less water. I do not see conservation measures or restrictions for population centers, where much waster is wasted on washing cars and watering lawns and non-drought-resistant ornamental plants. I also did not see any thought to recovering the heavily polluted fracking water, most of which comes back out of the well when the pressure is released and the flow of oil or gas begins.

    The building of more and better water handling (note: I did not say “management”) will “buy us time” when supplies are tight. Water conservation and recovery will allow reservoirs and aquifers to build up more quickly to allow us to start from a better place when the next drought comes.

    Am I correct?

    • Mike Barnett says:

      Mr. Domitz,
      Conservation is certainly the cheapest way to provide additional water supplies for a growing state. We hope municipalities and industry will follow agriculture’s stellar record of improving efficiency and conservation and doing a lot more with less water over the last two decades. Conversation and planning, as you note, need to be a top concern for all Texas. Thanks for your comment!

  2. John Price says:

    Mark Barnett and Robert Domitz; thank you for your common sense assessment of bill HB 4. I sincerely hope there is some left-over assistance for rural water systems after the utilities that have priority get theirs. I believe the legislature is simply applying band-aids when they should be building desalinization plants along the Gulf to supply large population areas and leave the surface and ground water for for rural areas instead of taking water from rural areas and sending it to the cities.

    John Price
    Coke County Water Supply Corp.
    Robert Lee, Texas

  3. When the Texas Supreme Court verified that the land owner over a water source owns 2 acre feet of water for every acre of land over an underground water source, I wonder how the farmers that are directly over the aquifers will be compensated when and if the cities suck the water level down and leaves the farmers high and dry. Our regional water board claimed our area rich in water would run dry in 13 years and now that information has completely vanished from the report without explanation. The rainy day fund is to help all Texans, not just those that have children, need water or want better roads while thumbing their noses at the rural areas and throwing them maybe just 10% if they are lucky especially since our gas prices are higher than all city prices and rural people have to travel farther to get just about any place. Most rural communities are lucky if they have one or two state roads in them so that is all that gets paved, while in 2013 many a dirt road still exists. It will all turn out like the victim assistance fund managed by Greg Abbott whereby 90% of the money goes to those administering the fund and the victim is lucky to get 10% and only after continually hounding them for the money for decades resulting in being victimized all over again. Sounds like this bill is in support of Agenda 21 whereby they are trying to railroad everybody to moving into the cities. Well I visited some of the sustainable community developments in Colorado in the last two months. These cities are crowded, suffer air pollution that burns the eyes and blocks the mountain views like a mini China in the making. It makes more sense for developers to spread out to the areas that already have water than to screw with the aquifers, because as soon as Texas messes with the water it will have dire consequences, lawsuits over minority rights, unbalanced funding and open to political favors.

    If we need a water plan, fine, but Texas needs to make it more equitable to those that own water rights and so far I have not read anything that even addresses the issue. Therefore, it looks more like a taking by government without just compensation. If you run the numbers on 50 acres, the utility grosses over $3 million+, while the farmer or rural owner gets nothing but a dry well in the future.

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