The condition of Texas’ aging, deteriorating water infrastructure has reached a boiling point. Several of the major water stories of 2022 were a result of water systems failures. These included a 13-day boil water notice in Laredo, a broken trunk line in Odessa and other communities enduring limited access to water.
Taking a step back, there are several data points that point to a water system in crisis. The American Society of Civil Engineers rates our drinking water systems with a C-, a grade reflective of high levels of water loss and the frequent occurrence of boil water notices. If Texas did not have a planning process for developing new water supplies, this grade would likely be worse. And while our drinking water systems have a below average grade, our wastewater systems rank poorly with a D grade.
Another key data point indicative of a water system in crisis is the significant amount of water that leaks out of our water systems. A report by the Texas Living Waters Project revealed that the state’s water systems lose at least 572,000 acre feet (equal to 186 billion gallons) of water per year. For comparison, this is the equivalent of the storage capacity of a major reservoir, such as Lake Buchanan or Possum Kingdom Lake. Further, and as indicated in the report, this is the equivalent of the combined water needs for the cities of Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso, Laredo and Lubbock.
In addition to these points, other data, including the substantial subscription rate for the financial assistance programs administered by the Texas Water Development Board and the multi-billion dollar estimates to upgrade our water systems by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency point to a water system in crisis.
Given this growing crisis, Texas 2036 has developed a legislative blueprint for the 88th Legislature that proposes systemic, comprehensive reforms needed to address the problems with the state’s aging, deteriorating water systems. The key elements of this blueprint include:
- Create and capitalize a state fund — or repurpose and existing fund — for addressing Texas’ aging, deteriorating water infrastructure;
- Support full funding for TWDB’s legislative appropriations request, including the maximum appropriations needed to secure Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds and the funding necessary to support its staff capacity and ability to recruit qualified personnel;
- Expand the state’s capacity to provide technical assistance to small, rural and disadvantaged communities;
- Develop a data-driven assessment process to identify water utilities that are failing or at-risk of failing; and,
- Expand opportunities for the development of regionalization and regional solutions within the state’s water sector.
Given the historic budget surplus facing legislators this session, this blueprint offers specific recommendations aimed towards investing a portion of that amount in a fund dedicated towards addressing the growing problem of aging, deteriorating water infrastructure. This proposal aims to address a longstanding problem facing our state while returning value to Texas taxpayers.