Proposition 6 passed, what’s next for Texas’ water policy
Texas’ water policy took a major step forward this November. By a 77.6% majority, Texas voters approved Proposition 6, creating the Texas Water Fund. This represents the largest expansion of the state’s financial strategy for addressing long-standing water infrastructure challenges in a decade.
Looking closely at the voter data, more Texans supported Proposition 6 than any other water-related proposition in the 21st Century. According to the Texas Secretary of State, 1,966,508 Texans voted for Proposition 6. In 2013, on the heels of the record drought of 2011, just 839,369 voters supported creating the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas. And while the water bond propositions on the 2001, 2007, 2011 and 2019 constitutional amendment ballots all passed, they did so with less voter support than that for Proposition 6.
The historic voter support for Proposition 6 reflects a broad recognition that Texas’ water infrastructure challenges require continued attention. Stories about aging, deteriorating and failing water systems continue to make headlines. Further, persistent and severe drought conditions have pushed the need for reliable water supplies into stark relief in many areas.
Judging from this week’s election results, voters are interested in progress toward solving our water infrastructure challenges and making smart investments with our unprecedented budget surplus. More critically, this election’s results reflect confidence in the state’s policy approach to water.
As of now, water is a political winner.
What comes next for Texas water policy?
Now that Proposition 6 has passed with strong voter support, there’s a series of actions that we can expect to follow. First, $1 billion in budget surplus funds will be transferred from the state’s treasury to the new Texas Water Fund. Then, the Texas Water Development Board will likely need to adopt rules on how the funds will be allocated.
But while the vote for Proposition 6 was historic, it doesn’t end the discussion on what needs to come next for water policy. If anything, it opens the door for bigger water policy conversations that need to happen.
For starters, while a $1 billion deposit into the new water fund is a good, meaningful down payment, it pales in comparison to the magnitude of Texas’ water infrastructure needs. Between now and 2070, the state will need to invest over $150 billion in water supply projects and fixing deteriorating systems. The opportunity here is to create a permanent, dedicated revenue stream for this new water fund – much like what we already use to finance our highways and state parks.
Other opportunities include the need for regional solutions and collaboration within our water sector. The data indicates that regional solutions can deliver needed efficiencies and economies of scale, improving water utilization, customer rates and even workforce development.
Lastly, there’s the growing issue of needing a qualified water workforce. The success of any state or local investment in water infrastructure hinges on the availability of trained, qualified personnel to operate those systems. Towards that end, policymakers should explore opportunities to expand viable career pathways through our high schools, community colleges and universities into the water sector.
This month’s vote for Proposition 6 was historic, decisive and forward-thinking. Moreover, it provides a strong foundation for continuing to build Texas’ water policy for the better.