State Water Plan All Lawed Up, But Will Voters Care to Fund it?

Categories: Environment

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From the U.S. Drought Monitor
Will voters remember this in November?
To the surprise and shock of nobody -- aka almost everybody -- legislators managed to get together and pass the state water infrastructure plan before the 83rd Legislative Session ended.

They did it by basically breaking the legislation into pieces and passing each piece separately, including the creation of a bank where local government entities will be able to get low interest loans to pay for water infrastructure projects, which cleared the Lege last week just before the end of the session.

Perry officially signed House Bill 4 into law on Tuesday, and now it will come down to the voters to approve the $2 billion funding required to actually revamp the Texas Water Development Board and to create the State Water Implementation Fund (SWIFT-- what are the odds they named it after that other queen-of-the-breakup-song, Taylor?).

The thing is, there are already a couple of things to maneuver (and here maneuver is code for figure out how in the hell to get around these abominable snowmen of roadblocks) before this plan to help local government build better water infrastructure actually becomes an actual thing.

For one thing, the state water plan managed to get through the state legislature, but now the funding is an issue for voters to tackle in November. Inside those little voting booths, the public will decide whether this drought has convinced them to pull money from the state's Rainy Day Fund to allow funding for water projects across the state.

The last time Texas officials really got scared enough about water to actually step up and fund a water plan without pulling any punches was the first water plan, put in place in 1961, according to Texas Tribune. They still had the dusty phantom of the 1950s drought to reference and it's amazing how a drought like that one can get the funding flowing, according to StateImpact Texas.

So it'll be interesting to see if today's voters have been scared enough by this drought to make them go on and vote the funding in, come election time.

The other tiny hitch in the water plan's giddyup? The state's 11th Court of Appeals ruled last week that two regional water plans -- both a part of the overall 300 page state water plan -- conflict with each other, according to the Texas Tribune.

On one side, officials in Dallas want to build a huge reservoir, the Marvin Nichols, in Red River and Titus Counties. So of course, the Texas Water Development Board accepted this proposal as part of the overall state plan. But, the thing is, the people in Red River and Titus don't want the reservoir built, and when they put the issue to the board, that was accepted as part of the plan too.

The 11th Court of Appeals ruled that the water board had gotten so eager to be agreeable to everyone that the board actually managed to disagree with itself in the case, Texas Water Development Board v. Ward Timber. Everyone wants water in the Lone Star State, but no one wants another city or county building these projects to move the water out of their own county, and the justices advised the water board to come up with a better solution than agreeing with both Dallas and the people out in Red River and Titus Counties. (Anyone surprised Dallas is all tangled up in this? Yeah, neither are we.)

The water board may appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, but if the Texas Supreme Court rules against the board it could be open season on the entire written water plan. From there it's just a hop, skip and a jump to undermining the whole enchilada, written plan, newly signed, not-quite-funded water infrastructure legislation and all.

Still, the water legislation got signed into law, just like in "School House Rock" so now there's an excuse to sing that song (As if anyone ever needs an excuse.)

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