Texas Legislature should invest in water infrastructure

Posted Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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More than 98 percent of Texas counties and communities are experiencing ongoing drought -- nothing new or surprising in a state that struggles with the devastating impacts of drought at least once every 10 years.

The Legislature has a real shot at protecting us by making a one-time investment in our State Water Plan. But less than six weeks remain in the session, and consensus has not emerged.

Without consensus, the future of our state's water supply -- arguably the most important issue facing our lawmakers -- is in jeopardy.

As Texans have become more educated about drought and its debilitating effects on public health and our economy, the number of stakeholders supporting water infrastructure investment has grown to include water providers, municipalities, agricultural interests, conservationists and representatives of every major economic driver in the state.

Despite this alignment of broad-based support, an investment in water infrastructure could still slip from our hands if legislators cannot agree on how that investment should be structured.

Many statewide elected officials and legislators are working hard to ensure that Texas has the water infrastructure necessary for future growth and development.

House Bill 4, by Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, and Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Belton, who chair the House and Senate natural resources committees, would create a historic water infrastructure bank to operate as a revolving loan program to finance water projects identified in the State Water Plan.

The chairmen also are trying to pass companion legislation that would fund HB4 with an injection of capital from the rainy-day fund. Alternate funding options include a constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Ritter's funding proposal was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, and Williams' proposal was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

With only weeks to go in the session, we encourage lawmakers to pass HB4, fund the loan program it prescribes and ensure that the funding mechanism is aligned with the financing tools laid out in HB4.

Texas Water Development Board projections warn that by 2060, 50 percent of Texans will lack enough water during severe drought. The crucial water infrastructure projects identified in the State Water Plan -- water treatment plants, reservoirs, pipes for water conveyance and conservation strategies -- can be implemented if the Legislature accomplishes these goals.

By making the one-time State Water Plan investment contemplated in HB4, our Legislature could provide water for generations of Texans.

Failure to deliver an investment in water infrastructure this session could lead to public health challenges, decreasing real estate values and billions of dollars in lost economic development opportunity.

When it comes to water, Texas cannot afford to wait any longer.

Mabrie Jackson is president and CEO of the North Texas Commission. James Oberwetter is president and CEO of the Dallas Regional Chamber. Bill Thornton is president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Jodie Jiles is chairman of the Texas Business Leadership Council.

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