Water Issues/Drought to Take Center Stage in Texas Session

The New York Times recently featured a story covering the opening of the Texas legislative session and its marquee issue - the state's historic drought and potential policy solutions to mitigate its long-lasting impacts.

Governor Rick Perry and the Speaker of the House, Joe Strauss, both prominently featured the the nearly two-year long drought in their opening session remarks last week as the state continues to struggle through its third driest period since weather records were first collected in 1895. A consensus is beginning to coalesce by some unusual policy bedfellows - the Sierra Club and the Texas Association of Business - around a proposal by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and the House Resources Committee Chairman, Allan Ritter, to finance the construction of new reservoirs. Under the proposal by Dewhurst and Ritter, oil and gas tax revenues deposited in the state's emergency fund would be used to help build new reservoirs and other water supply priority projects outlined in the state's 50-year water plan. The 50-year plan was developed under the auspices of the Texas Water Development Board and its 16 Regional Water Planning Groups, which is made up of diverse stakeholders representing the public, agriculture, industry, environmental groups, municipalities/counties, and utilities. According to a fact sheet issued by the state, the 50-year plan is routinely updated by the regional planning groups and it incorporates:

  • Water planning in Texas;
  • Population and water demand projections;
  • Climate of Texas;
  • Surface and groundwater resources;
  • Water reuse;
  • Water supply needs;
  • Water management strategies;
  • Plan implementation funding;
  • Challenges and uncertainties in water supply planning; and,
  • Planning group policy recommendations

The legislation offered by Representative Ritter would direct $2 billion from the emergency fund to create a water infrastructure bank to help finance the construction of the reservoirs, and at least 20 percent of the funds must be set aside for water reuse and conservation efforts. 

Without additional supplies, the Texas Water Development Board estimates the state will have a water deficit of 8.3 million acre-feet by 2060 that could cost upwards of $116 billion in economic impacts. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has also suggested that 18 public water systems may run out of water within 180 days unless some relief is provided, which has added a sense of urgency to the session's water focus.