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Texas Legislature passes comprehensive water bill to fund projects, address demand

FROM STAFF REPORTS

AUSTIN — With recent droughts looming on the minds of residents and state leaders, the Texas Legislature took a step to help address future water needs May 20.

House Bill 4, which is headed for the Gov. Rick Perry’s desk, helps garner money for the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas. This is basically a water infrastructure bank that, if properly managed, will finance all of the 2012 State Water Plan projects.

Since its passage, the water plan hasn’t been fully funded.

State Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), who authored the legislation, said the bill will help Texas meet its future water needs.

“I think every member of the Texas Legislature wants to do something to leave a mark,” he said. “I can think of no better legacy for all the members of the Legislature than to have found a solution so that our children and our grandchildren and all the generations to follow will have the water they need to thrive.”

According to Fraser’s office, the 2012 State Water plan shows that, during the next 50 years, Texas’ water supply is going to decrease by 18 percent. During that same time, however, water demand will increase by 27 percent.

Texas and the Highland Lakes have been wrestling with water issues for many years, but the past several have brought the problem to the forefront.

According to the Lower Colorado River Authority, the combined water storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis is 39 percent of capacity. As of May 21, Lake Buchanan’s level was 990.83 feet above mean sea level compared to the May average of 1,013.58 feet. Lake Travis is at 627.94 feet above mean sea level compared to the average May measurement of 671.07 feet.

The Texas Water Development Board released its drought report May 20 that showed much of the state suffering from some level of drought. A severe drought still gripped the Highland Lakes while the High Plains and Panhandle regions continue to endure extreme to exceptional drought conditions.

The National Weather Service is predicting a continuing drought this summer for the western half of Texas while the eastern part of the state could see some relief. Central Texas, including the Highland Lakes, falls in a section that likely will endure more drought conditions but with some improvement, according to the NWS.

The state’s reservoirs are 66 percent full, according to Fraser’s office.

“The drought not only has an impact on the health and safety of our communities, but also it affects our state’s economy and the ability to attract new businesses,” Fraser said. “I am glad that we finally passed HB4 to implement the State Water Plan, so we can ensure Texas will have sufficient water supplies during times of drought.”

House Bill 4 would:

• restructure the Texas Water Development board to three full-time members;

• set out the oversight and management of the (State Water Implementation Fund);

• direct the local regions and the Water Development Board to prioritize projects;

• enhance the state’s bonding capability from existing constitutionally created programs and revenue bond programs;

• and, recognize the importance of conservation use while providing that funding must be directed toward rural communities.

editor@thepicayune.com