Was state water board reorganization necessary?

Posted Thursday, Jul. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a fit adage to apply to the recent legislation to reorganize the Texas Water Development Board.

The TWDB was never broken or under-performing. Despite its superlative record, the Legislature, at the urging of Gov. Rick Perry, passed House Bill 4, replacing the six-member volunteer board with three paid commissioners to be appointed by the governor.

The increased cost associated with this bill is estimated to be $1.2 million annually — or more.

Many of the diverse former volunteer TWDB members who represented areas throughout Texas and who served and governed the TWDB since its founding in 1957 do not think this reorganization is necessary, nor wise.

These members had staggered six-year terms, thus promoting both political and ideological diversity on the board. They presided over a staggering array of federal, state and locally funded loans and grants for drinking water and water treatment facilities throughout the state.

Often wading through six-inch-thick monthly board and committee meeting books and complex project ranking systems, the members brought diverse business and political expertise to the board’s decision-making process.

Personal or political agendas were not part of that process.

The primary reason for the reorganization set forth in HB4, as articulated by the proponents, was that the TWDB needed greater financial expertise in managing the new $2 billion water development fund authorized by the Legislature subject to voter approval in November.

Lawmakers said this reorganization is intended to make the TWDB more accountable and engaged.

The TWDB is responsible for coordinating the State Water Plan. The process set forth in Senate Bill 1 in 1997 has resulted in three 50-year plans that are developed and updated every five years by 16 regional stakeholder or water planning groups.

The TWDB serves as the collector of and depository for all water data for the state. The Texas Natural Resources Information System (TNRIS) has a comprehensive database available to the public, including local, regional and state agencies and the federal government.

The continued maintenance of this data base is crucial during times of crisis when information is needed to support first responders.

Most important and most relevant to this discussion are the massive amounts of loans and grants administered by the board for drinking water and water treatment projects.

Since 1957 the TWDB has provided loans in excess of $14 billion for water-related projects. Of this $14 billion, $5.5 billion is currently outstanding and $8.5 billion has been repaid.

In addition to these loans, $625 million in grants have been awarded to under-served and impoverished communities in Texas.

All of these loans and grants have been administered by the volunteer board. While the economy has endured a number of difficulties, including severe drought, especially in the last few years, the amount of loans the TWDB considers of concern is only 1 percent of the total outstanding . There have been no defaults on any of the loans made during the past 56 years.

As a result of this outstanding loan performance the three national financial rating agencies (Moody’s, Standard & Poor and Fitch) have given the TWDB their best credit ratings. This is a remarkable record.

We challenge anyone who believes this record could be achieved by board members who were not “accountable and engaged.”

Is reorganization of the TWDB necessary? Only time will tell. But one thing is indisputable: It will be impossible to have a better record during the next 56 years.

Wales Madden Jr. of Amarillo, Noe Fernandez of McAllen, D.V. Guerra of Edinburg, Jack Hunt of Houston and Weir Labatt of San Antonio are former members of the Texas Water Development Board.

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