PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

March 12, 2013

Lawmakers not waiting for “Rainy Day” to fund water plans

Dan Bledsoe
The Port Arthur News

AUSTIN — Literally starting from the ground up, state lawmakers laid out a proposed $2 billion allocation Monday aimed at funding Texas’ future water needs.

House Bill 11 by State Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, would transfer money from what is known as the Rainy Day Fund for use as a down payment of sorts for as much as $27 billion for the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT.

The House Committee on Appropriation's Sub-Committee on Budget Transparency and Reform heard testimony on the measure.

It is the latest significant step state lawmakers have taken 63 days into its 140-day biennial session amidst a high tide of some 575 pieces of water-related legislation.

“With a one-time capital investment, we could provide adequate, meaningful funding to the plan and achieve the state’s goals of supporting local entities in the implementation of projects,” Ritter said. “We will be able to finance $27 billion worth of water management strategies from this one-time infusion and give us the biggest bang for the buck in trying to address our future water needs.”

Ritter is chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources through which all major, statewide water-related issues must be approved.

Lawmakers are following projections from the Texas Water Development Board and the Legislative Budget Board to develop projects included in the State Water Plan during the next 50 years, Ritter said.

The State Water Plan is the result of a regional, “bottom-up” planning process comprised of local stakeholders representing a variety of interests, such as agriculture, industry, the environment, municipalities, water districts and river authorities, he said.

HB 11, along with House Bill 4, is part of an overall long-term water source strategy that would create the SWIFT infrastructure bank.

Texas has 16 regional planning groups that evaluate their needs over the next 50 years and recommend strategies and projects to meet that demand. These plans are then lumped into five-year segments to create a statewide plan.

Mike Doguet, general manager of Doguet’s Rice Mill, said building as many reservoirs as feasible is one of the most critical components for future water needs.

“We have seen first hand what not having enough storage does to agriculture,” Doguet said. “It’s crippling the small communities of Matagorda, Wharton and Colorado counties. Over the last 60 plus years we have had enough water for everyone and now we see what a prolonged drought can do to those regions. We have lost for another year about 60,000 acres of rice acreage out of Texas. That puts all infrastructures in those areas in serious jeopardy for survival.”

Doguet said water will be the most valuable commodity for the next 50 years and that no industry can survive without a sufficient supply.

“I’m all for the looking at long-range plans now,” Doguet said. “Possibly some of these shortages would not have happened if we had started earlier.”