Three Big Wins from the Sunset Commission to Strengthen the Texas Water Development Board

On June 22, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission approved recommendations for the Texas Water Development Board to better plan for more severe droughts, establish meaningful budget metrics and incorporate stronger data for outreach efforts. This comes after Texas 2036 submitted ideas for the Commission to consider as they work to improve the Water Development Board’s operations. 

Here’s a look at three key recommendations adopted last week:

Prepare for Worse Droughts

Texas needs to prepare for worse droughts. Archeological records tell us Texas has endured droughts that were longer and more severe than the drought we currently plan for. Moreover, data from our Extreme Weather Report produced in collaboration with the State Climatologist shows that future droughts could become even more severe. 

Given these findings, we recommended that the Water Development Board consult with the State Climatologist on drought trends and that regional water planners be allowed to adjust the drought scenarios they use for planning purposes to account for the possibility of worsening conditions.

Representative Terry Canales’ regional planning recommendation was adopted by the Commission as a change in statute to be included in the Water Development Board’s Sunset bill for the 2023 Legislative session. Senator Nathan Johnson’s recommendation that the Board consult with the State Climatologist was adopted as a management action that will inform agency practices.

Use Meaningful Performance Measures

The Commission adopted a recommendation regarding the metrics used by state budget writers to gauge the Water Development Board’s performance and efficiency during the funding appropriations process. 

Unfortunately, the majority of performance measures currently used in the appropriations process fail to describe agencies’ successes or shortcomings in their use of taxpayers’ dollars.

Considering one of the agency’s core functions is to finance water projects, Texas 2036 recommended that the Water Development Board use new, meaningful measurements to evaluate the agency’s processing of applications for financial assistance.

Thanks to the leadership of Representative Justin Holland, the Sunset Commission adopted a recommendation that the Water Development Board work with the Legislative Budget Board to update the agency’s performance measures to include elements of the project review process. Once developed, these performance measures will enable state budget writers to assess how well it performs. 

Follow the Data

The Sunset Staff Report already recommended that the Water Development Board improve its outreach to better identify communities that are not participating in its financial assistance programs, missing opportunities to fix problems with their water infrastructure. 

To improve its outreach program, Texas 2036 recommended that the agency use two key data sets:

  • Water loss audit data maintained by Texas Water Development Board, and
  • Environmental, health and safety compliance data maintained by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

This data will inform TWDB of water utilities with significant system problems, including high levels of water loss or noncompliance with health and safety requirements, allowing for more targeted outreach to communities in need of assistance.

The Commission adopted this management action recommendation made by Senator Nathan Johnson.

The recommendations adopted by the Commission will be included in the General Appropriations Act, added to Texas Water Development Board’s Sunset bill for the 2023 Legislative session, or implemented by the agency in the Interim. Given the good stuff that’s already in the Board’s Sunset bill, the 2023 session is already shaping up to make meaningful changes for Texas water policy.