DALLAS — A $2 billion bond plan to finance water projects in Texas won passage from a key legislative committee.

The Texas House Natural Resources Committee last week unanimously approved House Bill 4 which would take money from the state's $12 billion rainy day fund to create the State Water Infrastructure Fund of Texas.

The bill would establish the SWIFT as a special fund outside the state treasury, to be administered by the Texas Water Development Board.

TWDB, which serves as a bond bank for local water utilities, carries ratings of AA-plus from Standard & Poor's and triple-A from Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings. Outlooks are stable.

The bill would authorize TWDB to direct the state comptroller to transfer money between SWIFT and other funds.

At least 20% of SWIFT funds used in any two years would have to be used for water conservation, reuse or education.

A similar measure is under consideration in the Texas Senate, and the two versions of the bill would require reconciliation.

The mayors of San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Austin, and El Paso testified in favor of HB 4. The Texas Municipal League also voiced support for the bill.

"The support of these mayors who are already making significant strides in water conservation on their own accord is a testament that cities have bought into water planning," said Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Harlingen, co-author of the bill.

Environmental groups differed on the bill, with praise from the Nature Conservancy for creation of reserves from private land and criticism from Environment Texas for inadequate conservation measures and promoting potentially destructive projects.

Texas needs about $53 billion to provide water for the growing state over the next half-century, according to the State Water Development Board. Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, said SWIFT could provide about $27 billion.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry voiced support for the bond plan in his state-of-the-state address earlier this year.

"Whenever we're recruiting a business seeking to relocate or expand, a chief concern of theirs is ensuring there are adequate water, power and transportation systems for their needs," Perry said.

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