A big start for addressing Texas’ water challenges

The 88th Legislature had good reasons to tackle Texas’ water infrastructure challenges. Prolonged drought conditions afflicting much of the state throughout 2022 combined with high-profile stories about failing water systems to heighten voters’ interest in seeing water problems fixed. According to Texas 2036 poll data, 82% of voters supported added spending on developing water supplies, while 89% supported a substantial investment in fixing failing water systems.

On top of that, the announcement of a record $32.7 billion budget surplus signaled the opportunity for a generational investment in Texas’ water infrastructure needs.

In truth, the time had come for the Legislature to have another major policy conversation about water. The last time this happened was in 2013, when the Legislature and Texas voters approved the creation of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the deposit of $2 billion into this new fund. Droughts during the intervening decade accelerated strains on existing water supplies. Meanwhile, water systems across the state continued to age and deteriorate.

SB 28: What you need to know

Shortly after the 88th Legislature began in early January, Texas 2036 released our Legislative Blueprint for addressing the problem of aging, deteriorating water and wastewater systems. The data within the blueprint pointed to systems in crisis, including boil water notices, sanitary sewer overflows, significant water losses, and near-failing grades by the American Society of Civil Engineers. In an effort to address these problems, the blueprint recommended that the Legislature create a new, constitutionally-dedicated fund and appropriate $5 billion toward this new fund.

By the end of the 88th regular session, the Legislature approved two headline water bills, Senate Bill 28 and Senate Joint Resolution 75 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, aimed at addressing Texas’ water supply and infrastructure challenges.

The first bill, SB 28, creates the New Water Supply for Texas Fund. This fund must be used for developing new water supplies, that is, new water molecules being added to the state’s inventory. New water supplies can be developed through various means, including the use of desalination, produced water recycling, and aquifer storage and recovery. SB 28 includes the ambitious goal that this new fund finance water supply projects that will contribute seven million acre-feet of water to the state’s inventory in 10 years.

In addition to its focus on new water supplies, SB 28 tackles the issue of aging, deteriorating water infrastructure, particularly within small and rural communities. The bill creates the Texas Water Fund focused on water infrastructure projects, which are prioritized according to risk or need, as well as water conservation and water loss mitigation projects. This new fund will help the state address the larger problem of aging, deteriorating, and leaking water systems.

SJR 75: What you need to know

The Texas Water Fund is a constitutionally-dedicated fund, however. That’s where SJR 75 comes in.

SJR 75 proposes to amend the Texas Constitution to create the Texas Water Fund. Voters must approve this proposal in November’s constitutional amendment election in order for the fund to become official. If Texas voters approve this amendment, then the Legislature has set aside $1 billion for the Texas Water Fund.

Texas 2036 strongly supported SB 28 and SJR 75 throughout the legislative process. Combined, these bills address the escalating need for investment in new water supplies and fixing failing water systems.

The policy discussion of what needs to happen to address our water infrastructure challenges doesn’t end with the passage of these two bills, however. Over the next 50 years, Texas will need to invest over $125 billion in fixing failing systems and developing new water supplies. The good news from the 88th session is that the Legislature has established the framework for a new, and needed, financial strategy for addressing growing water infrastructure challenges and provided a $1 billion down payment toward our long-term needs.

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