Details still ahead for Texas water funding

Posted Saturday, Nov. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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There’s no doubt about what the majority of Texans who voted in Tuesday’s election thought about financing a statewide water plan, the constitutional amendment that drew the most attention in the buildup to the vote.

More than 73 percent favored taking $2 billion from the state’s rainy-day fund savings account, adding it to $6 billion already included in the Texas Water Development Board’s bond authority and dedicating it to projects in the state’s 50-year water plan.

Texas knows well what drought is like, and its steadily growing population needs growing, dependable water supplies.

But making that happen in the right way is a process, not an event. There are important decisions still to be made to ensure that the funding is used for the state’s greatest benefit and that all regions of Texas are helped to meet their water needs.

Part of the process is laid out in the enabling legislation approved by state lawmakers.

Other details, down to the rule-making process that’s at the heart of what state agencies do, are yet to be worked out.

Every member of the Legislature has a watchdog role to play in making sure it gets done right. After all, the billions of dollars at stake belong to their constituents.

The strong support for Proposition 6 shouldn’t be taken as a complete green light. Opponents — the 27 percent who cast votes against Prop 6 — raised some good points during the campaign.

The Texas Patriots PAC, a self-proclaimed Tea Party organization, published a voters’ guide stating its opposition.

The guide said the organization’s members are “extremely uncomfortable that there are not adequate procedures and guidelines in place” to ensure that the money will be used on “economically viable projects that have reasonable prospects of repaying the loans.”

For the water development board, which will be in charge of the process, the guide said “success depends on astute analysis of project completion and economic viability risks, minimizing funding costs and establishing comprehensive repayment terms that minimize the risk to Texas that the loans will not be repaid and maximize Texas’ security interest in the project until the loans are repaid.”

The enabling legislation, House Bill 4 by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, provides some necessary guidelines.

It reorganizes the TWDB, decreasing its size from six members to three. Appointed by the governor, the board members will be limited to two six-year terms.

One board member is to have expertise in engineering, one in public or private finance and one in law or business.

The bill calls for an advisory committee made up of five members of the House and five from the Senate, plus the state comptroller.

The committee is to give the board comments and recommendations for use in adopting rules, policies and procedures. It is to review the overall structure and functioning of the board at least annually.

Projects to be funded are first to be prioritized by regional water planning groups across the state. But the board then is expected to set its own statewide priorities, using a point system with criteria such as the size of the population served by a project and whether that population includes urban and rural areas.

Points also are to be assigned according to how much local money will be invested in the project and the applicant’s ability to repay loans.

This will be a long process. Transparency and oversight will be crucial.

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