DALLAS – A coalition of Texas water utilities and customers want $2 billion from the state’s burgeoning Rainy Day Fund to begin work on a statewide $53 billion water supply effort over the next 50 years.
The H2O4TEXAS Coalition said a revolving loan program financed with the $2 billion from the $8 billion Emergency Stabilization Fund is a conservative approach to providing enough water for future needs.
Heather Harward, executive director of the advocacy group, said the ongoing drought is focusing the attention of Texans on the investments needed to ensure water supplies.
“The devastating impact of this ongoing drought has been an unfortunate catalyst, but the Legislature and our state’s leadership seem poised to implement our state water plan,” Harward said.
Without additional water supplies, Harward said, 50% of Texans in 2060 would face inadequate water supplies in times of drought.
Water demand in Texas by 2060 will grow by 22% while the population sees an 82% growth over the next 50 years, according to the official state water plan adopted by the Texas Water Development Board last year.
However, existing water resources will shrink by 10% over the period due to depletion of the Oglalla Aquifer in the Texas Panhandle and decreased reliance on the Gulf Coast Aquifer.
Failure to develop new water supplies by 2060 could cost the Texas economy $115.7 billion a year, the water board warned.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in early December that he would support taking $1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to fund a state water supply infrastructure bond bank.
A proposal to transfer the $1 billion to the Texas Water Development Board for the water infrastructure effort has been filed by Rep. Lyle Larson, R- San Antonio.
House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said providing enough water for future generations is “absolutely one of the issues that we have to seriously address” when the Legislature convenes Jan. 8.
“We need to begin making some progress,” Straus said. “I don’t expect to complete it in one year, but we do need to take the first step.”
The 2013 Legislature will focus on “the things that will help Texas cope with the tremendous growth that we have seen in this state,” Straus said.
The 2011 Legislature rejected a proposal by Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, to generate $27 billion for water development efforts with a monthly tap fee on utility bills for 15 years and a transfer of $500 million from a fund intended to help pay utility bills of low-income Texans.
Ritter, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said he will try again to provide a revenue stream for water infrastructure with a proposal for a dedicated monthly charge of $3.50 to $5 on utility bills. Tapping the Rainy Day Fund is also part of the financial plan, he said.
The proposed water infrastructure bank will need a $2 billion infusion of seed money from the Rainy Day Fund to be effective, Ritter said.
Voters in 2011 approved a state constitutional amendment allowing the Texas Water Development Board to have up to $6 billion of outstanding debt for local water supply and clean water projects.