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Environmental Blog

Water Infrastructure Development to Increase in Texas

It’s official. Texas’ Proposition 6 passed overwhelmingly yesterday with a very large margin. The proposition enables use of $2 billion dollars from Texas’ Economic Stabilization Fund (aka the “Rainy Day Fund”) to provide financing for water infrastructure projects in Texas. The lack of rain caused more urgency in the use of the Rainy Day Fund monies (which required a constitutional amendment – Proposition 6). The Fund currently has more than $6 billion dollars and is continuing to grow. The $2 billion dollars will be transferred into the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (“SWIFT”), which in turn will create funding for the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas (“SWIRFT”). This money will provide low interest rate financing for Texas water projects.

Proposition 6’s large margin victory is said to be due in part to strong bipartisan support and the severe drought that Texas is still enduring. In fact, last Friday, Governor Perry again extended the emergency disaster proclamation for more than 200 Texas counties facing water shortage. Many groups acknowledged support for the measure due to the emphasis on water conservation, reuse and education projects. Legislation passed prior to the Constitutional amendment sets up parameters for the use of the funds and specifies that 20% of SWIFT funds should go to conservation/reuse/education projects and an additional 10% to rural purposes or agricultural conservation. Many others, including elected officials, spent considerable time advancing the proposal due to the effect water availability has on the Texas economy. This issue also is taking federal stage – please see EPA’s new report on “The Importance of Water to the U.S. Economy,” which was released at nearly the same time as the vote on Prop 6. 

What happens now? The Texas Water Development Board (“TWDB”) (with its newly constituted three member board) will be in charge of putting together a process for and then selection of the projects to receive monies. The projects will be selected from the 2012 State Water Plan. TWDB has indicated that it is now working on rules for project prioritization so the funds can be available in 2015. In addition, an Advisory Committee will be created with three appointees of the Lieutenant Governor, three appointees of the Speaker of the House, and the Comptroller to oversee the TWDB’s actions and provide guidance as delineated in some detail in House Bill 4. Additional guidance is given to the process and prioritization in House Bill 4, but there is much is to be decided – What is the definition of conservation/reuse/education? What is the definition of rural? What type of oversight will the Advisory Committee have? How will prioritization work? How will the factors specified in House Bill 4 be taken into account? How will timing work? Etc.

All eyes will be on the next steps as this vital funding becomes accessible to water infrastructure and conservation/reuse projects. The Rainy Day Fund seems to have been put to a great purpose . . . to ameliorate the difficulties due to the lack of rain. The implementation will be both interesting and important to all Texans. 

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