By LIBBY CLUETT
AUSTIN – The 83rd Texas legislative session begins today and lawmakers will take on many recurring priorities in the next 140 days, including one of their top – water.
With a multi-year drought plaguing much of the state, the topic has spawned debate about how to fund the state’s $53 billion water plan.
In a December speech to the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told his audience, “As our population doubles over the next 25 to 30 years … we're going to need to double our potable water supplies in the state of Texas.”
He told the audience that he plans to work with lawmakers this session to bring out about $1 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to set up a water infrastructure bank to help finance water projects.
Dewhurst said it took four years to pass Senate Bill 3, which set aside the reservoir footprints for 19 reservoirs in the state. He added that dedicating $1 billion to the water plan could help with reservoir project expenses, like surveys and rights-of-way, which will later be repaid by construction financing.
“Our state will struggle in terms of economic health if the state doesn't have enough water. The state water plan estimates losses in the hundreds of billions a year statewide – lost industry, lost jobs, lack of growth,” said Matt Phillips, the Brazos River Authority's government and customer relations manager.
Industries such as agriculture, mining, petrochemical/industrial, electric generation, as well as municipalities, are among a large number of BRA water users. Phillips explained that even in a small community, bringing in a larger retail business, like a Home Depot, requires water.
“I think the best way to look at it is that we live in a state that has been in a serious drought for the past couple of years. The drought has put in sharp focus the finite nature of our water supply,” he said. “While we have current water supplies, we don't have enough.”