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Support flows, opposition simmers for water funding

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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It’s a simple equation, business leaders say.

With a good water supply for the next 50 years, Texas’ economy will keep growing. Without high-quality H2O, the state’s prosperity will sink, they argue.

Those were the sentiments expressed Wednesday by several dozen officials from Fort Worth, Dallas and other area chambers who joined House Speaker Joe Straus in calling for a high-profile campaign in favor of Proposition 6.

If approved by voters statewide Nov. 5, Proposition 6 would create a State Water Implementation Fund using $2 billion from Texas’ rainy-day account. The money would be made available for projects identified in the state’s water plan, which is administered by the Texas Water Development Board with input from local leaders in each region of the state.

“Water is something Fort Worth and Dallas can agree on. It’s also something Democrats and Republicans can agree on,” Straus, R-San Antonio, said during a news conference at the Westin Galleria in Dallas. “These elections don’t usually trend on Twitter, or get ratings on cable television, but they are important.”

One example of a project that could be funded by Proposition 6 proceeds is Lake Ralph Hall, a proposed reservoir that would be built north of Greenville to serve a large part of Denton County. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality this week approved a water rights permit for the lake, which would be named in honor of the long-time U.S. representative for that area. It will likely be the first major new water supply to be approved in the region in nearly 30 years.

But opponents say Proposition 6 supporters are playing on Texans’ fear of drought in an effort to win subsidies for investors and real estate holders. Texas already has $6 billion of bonding authority for water projects that was approved by voters in 2011 and hasn’t yet been used, said Linda Curtis, director of Independent Texans, a watchdog group based in Bastrop southeast of Austin.

“If you trust a so-called new and improved Texas Water Development Board that has two of three Perry cronies making decisions, then go ahead and vote for Prop 6, but I won’t,” Curtis said. “We think millions of people will see the governor’s willingness to create cash cows for his plans, and it’s very objectionable.

“You have to scratch your head and wonder why we need more money when we haven’t touched the $6 billion revolving bank fund passed in 2011,” Curtis said. “Water speculators and real estate interests want better terms, when they already have the best credit and borrowing ability of anybody pretty much in the state of Texas right now.”

Supporters of Proposition 6 say Texas has been thriving on visionary decisions made by their predecessors in the first half of the 20th century to build systems of reservoirs and pipelines across the state, ensuring that residents and businesses could thrive without thirst. But, they said, with the state’s population expected to double during the next 40 years and groundwater supplies declining, it’s time for leaders to begin a new era of providing a clean, efficient water supply

During the next six weeks or so, chamber officials throughout North Texas will ask business owners to talk with their employees about the importance of voting yes on Proposition 6. The campaign also will include guest editorials submitted to newspapers, as well as bumper stickers with messages such as “Water Texas: Vote Yes on Proposition 6.”

“You can have good highways. You can have a great work force. But if you can’t persuade voters that the state needs a reliable water supply, you can’t continue to grow businesses in the future,” said Bill Thornton, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive. “It is economic development 101.”

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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