Perhaps no other issue is as critical for all businesses in Texas as our water supply. The latest update to the Texas State Water Plan confirms that in drought conditions, Texas businesses do not have the water that is needed to sustain economic opportunity. The report projects that by 2060 water supplies will decrease by 10 percent, while our population will grow by 82 percent, from 25.4 million to over 46 million. The need for additional water in Texas during drought conditions will reach 8.3 million acre-feet.
Future water availability will depend on significant financial investment in water projects and infrastructure, measured in the tens of billions of dollars. The failure to meet this water demand by 2060 will mean the loss of $116 billion in lost corporate and personal income annually and over one million jobs in Texas. Addressing the issue of water supply will help control costs, which will become exorbitant for all users when demand far exceeds supply.
Conservation of existing water resources, development of additional cost-effective supplies and sound scientifically based and economically rational standards for protecting water quality will be key to our ability to continue to attract business opportunities to Texas. TAB supports the preservation of the rights of senior surface water rights holders and efforts which will enable our groundwater resources to be developed in the most effective and efficient manner while preserving the rights of owners of land and water. TAB’s priorities for water management policy are:
Emergency Allocations of Water. Support efforts to ensure that the allocation of water during drought or other emergency conditions to meet critical public health and welfare needs is conditioned on recipients of water implementing the most stringent water conservation measures and allows for compensation to those water rights holders who surrender water to meet public emergencies based on true market value.
Groundwater Conservation Districts. Recognizing that the most efficient utilization of the state’s water resources will require some changes to the framework of groundwater management authorities, it will be the policy of TAB to:
- • Support the authority of groundwater conservation districts that is consistent with recent court decisions that affirm the rights of property owners in the access to and use of their groundwater property rights;
- • Support the consistent management and regulation of groundwater on the basis of defined hydrogeologic boundaries rather than arbitrary political jurisdiction boundaries;
- • Support efforts to ensure that the authority and function of groundwater conservation districts fully supports reasonable measures to develop brackish groundwater sources through desalination or other technologies;
- • Support efforts to ensure that the authority and function of groundwater conservation districts fully supports reasonable measures to enhance water supplies through aquifer storage and recovery; and
- • Support efforts to clarify that where the Legislature has established statewide regulatory authority vested in a state agency, that authority cannot be superseded by a local jurisdiction, including a groundwater conservation district.
New Water Management Strategies. Providing improvements in the ability to finance water infrastructure in only part of the task. The state must now look to what strategies offer the best options for the future to provide both an adequate supply of additional water resources and the most cost-effective supply. To that end, the legislature will be examining new and evolving options, including desalination of brackish groundwater and seawater, aquifer storage and recovery and innovative reuse and conservation technologies. Full utilization of these strategies will require changes to the current legal, procedural and institutional water resource management framework, including the structure, function and authority of various water management entities, including groundwater conservation districts. In evaluating legislative proposals for addressing the state’s water supply needs, TAB will support those measures that best ensure an adequate supply of water at a cost that is fair and supportive of both legal property interests and future economic growth.
Regulatory Fees, Taxes and Funds. Oppose any new taxes to pay for additional water resource or water quality regulatory programs. Oppose the imposition of any new fees to recover the cost of water resource or water quality regulatory programs unless the program can be shown to clearly address a critical environmental or public health need. Fees should only be assessed to recover the actual costs imposed on government by the activities of the regulated entities, must reasonably allocate costs between members of a regulated universe and must be adjusted periodically to actually match agency budgets and legislative appropriations.
State Water Plan. With the support of TAB and other interest groups, the 83rd Legislature passed HB 4 and SJR 1 and the voters in November 2013 approved the constitutional amendment that dedicated $2 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund for additional financial support for water infrastructure projects. In addition to our existing priorities for sound water resource management, TAB’s policy focus must now include how the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) implements HB 4/SJR 1 and what future legislative actions are required to ensure that the state’s goals for a more dependable water supply are met.
The addition of $2 billion and the financial management tools available in HB 4, in conjunction with the existing bond authority of the TWDB, are designed to provide incentives to local and regional water providers to pursue water supply and conservation strategies. It will be incumbent on TAB to monitor the implementation of HB 4 and support subsequent legislation that ensures that:
- • Water providers in Texas are properly motivated to invest in water infrastructure;
- • The state’s financial assistance programs produce sufficient revenues to ensure a viable future for economic development in Texas; and
- • Water resource financing plans distribute the costs fairly and equitably among all users and beneficiaries in the state.
State Water Rights. In examining any new legislative proposals to promote alternative or innovative water supply strategies, TAB will:
- • Oppose efforts to alter the existing structure of water rights laws in Texas in any manner that would weaken the legal and property interest of existing holders of water rights;
- • Monitor the implementation of any programs to increase or enhance the enforcement of water rights, including new watermaster jurisdictions, to ensure that existing water rights are protected and that any costs of new enforcement programs clearly reflect the value of the resource and the fair allocation of costs among water right holders; and
- • Oppose any efforts to modify or weaken the status of senior water rights as defined by the courts in the case of TCEQ v. Texas Farm Bureau.
Water Conservation. In evaluating legislative proposals related to water conservation, TAB will:
- • Support efforts to ensure that water users are required to develop and enforce stringent water conservation measures as a condition of receiving any state financial or technical assistance for water resource planning and development;
- • Support efforts to ensure that water providers are able to establish rates for retail water use that appropriately balance both the need to recover the costs of water supply and delivery infrastructure and encourage necessary water conservation; and
- • Oppose any efforts to establish or enforce water conservation measures that unfairly burden one class of water user or impose a disproportionate demand for water use restrictions on commercial or industrial users.