By JEREMY MAZUR
A priority for state lawmakers this year was the establishment of new funding sources to help ensure Texas has ready access to enough water to sustain both its growing population and economy.
Their efforts culminated in early June with the stroke of the governor’s pen, signing their legislation into law.
Several important provisions take effect on Sept. 1, including:
• The creation of a new fund dedicated to expanding our state’s new water supply portfolio.
• Providing technical assistance to small and rural communities to help with water loss audits.
• Establishing a program to educate the public on the importance of water to our drought-prone state.
However, the water policy discussion has not yet ended for the year. Final authorization of these funds requires amending the Texas Constitution. That means the ultimate decision on implementing these policy changes rests with Texas voters this November.
Here’s what you need to know:
Step 1: Texas voters approve the Texas Water Fund in November.
The Texas Water Fund may be used to provide financial assistance for developing new water supplies, fixing deteriorating water systems and addressing leaking infrastructure. Because the fund is constitutionally dedicated, voters must approve an amendment to the Texas Constitution creating the Texas Water Fund during the constitutional amendment election on Nov. 7.
The yes or no ballot language for this amendment will be pretty simple, “The constitutional amendment creating the Texas water fund to assist in financing water projects in this state.” If a majority of voters approve this amendment in November, then Texas will have a new, needed and flexible fund to address our state’s long-term water infrastructure challenges.
Step 2: Unlocking a $1 billion down payment.
The Legislature authorized the deposit of $1 billion to the Texas Water Fund if voters approve the constitutional amendment this November. This would be a meaningful down payment for the long-term water infrastructure challenges Texas faces.
Should voters reject the constitutional amendment, the $1 billion would not be allocated toward water infrastructure and would remain in the state treasury.
Step 3: We will still need to talk about investments in water infrastructure.
Voter approval of the Texas Water Fund this November would establish a new financial strategy for addressing Texas’ water infrastructure challenges. And the $1 billion appropriation would constitute a meaningful down payment toward addressing those challenges.
The long-term price tag for addressing our water infrastructure needs is significant, however. Over the next half-century, Texas will need to spend over $150 billion on new water supplies, fixing aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and developing flood control and mitigation projects.
This means that the conversation about our water infrastructure, and what it means to our state’s continued growth and survival, won’t be over if voters approve the Texas Water Fund. The larger issue of continued investments, and possibly even dedicated revenue streams for water infrastructure, remains.
The good news from this legislative session is that lawmakers established the framework for a new, and needed, financial strategy for addressing growing water infrastructure challenges. Also, they provided a $1 billion down payment toward our long-term needs.
Lawmakers must continue those efforts in the coming months and years if the state is to successfully meet a surging demand for water and ensure the Texas economy remains a job-creating dynamo in the decades to come.
Jeremy Mazur is a senior policy advisor for Texas 2036, a nonprofit public policy organization building long-term, data-driven strategies to secure Texas’ prosperity.