Water Infrastructure, Deferred Maintenance, and Disaster Preparedness

The following remarks were delivered by Texas 2036 Senior Policy Advisor Jeremy Mazur at the Senate Water, Agriculture, and Rural Affairs Hearing on May 10, 2022.

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, my name is Jeremy Mazur and I am a Senior Policy Advisor for Texas 2036.  Thank you for the opportunity to offer comments on this interim charge relating to the state’s water infrastructure and the related issues of deferred maintenance and disaster preparedness.

I’d like to divide my brief comments into three parts. First, I’d like to share some recent Texas 2036 poll data about Texans’ concerns about extreme weather and access to water during drought.  Second, I’d like to share some findings from a soon-to-be-released between Texas 2036 and the Baker Institute at Rice University on how extreme weather resilience will be a cost driver for infrastructure maintenance.  And lastly, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress late last year offers a historic, unprecedented opportunity to fix some real problems with our water and wastewater infrastructure.

Let’s start by looking at the poll numbers.

In late January, we partnered with Baselice and Associates to survey 1,001 registered voters on a wide range of policy issues, including education and workforce, the state economy, crime and health care.  The poll included questions relating to water and extreme weather trends.  I’d like to share those results with you today.

Our first question asked voters’ about their concerns about the State Climatologist’s prediction for greater extreme weather trends, including  more 100-degree days, more extreme rainfall, increased drought severity.

77% of voters – three out of four – are concerned about extreme weather, which includes disasters such as droughts and floods.  The majority were extremely or very concerned.

Given these data points, Texas voters are responsive to policy changes to improve resilience in the face of extreme weather and weather-related disasters.  This would include weatherizing our water and wastewater facilities, or even planning for worse droughts or floods.

The second question we asked gauged voters’ concerns about their access to water during the next severe drought.  

Nine out of ten voters responded that they are concerned that some communities may not be able to access water during a time of drought.

Well over half of the voters polled were very or extremely concerned about their access to water.

We know that drought is a disaster.  Even though we have a State Water Plan for drought, and are building water supply projects to improve our state’s drought resilience, voters are still concerned about the ravages of drought.

Ultimately, the two issues highlighted in these poll results – that of resilience to extreme weather and water supplies during drought – point to the need for further investment in water infrastructure.

This brings me to my second point.  Next week, Texas 2036 and the Baker Institute at Rice University will release a report on the economic costs of drought and the need to invest in water systems’ resilience to extreme weather events, including winter storms and flooding.  I have provided the committee with an advanced copy of that draft.

The report observes that the American Society of Civil Engineers grades Texas’ water infrastructure as a C minus, indicating that the state’s water infrastructure is both aging and underfunded.

The costs of our infrastructure deterioration will be progressive.  This means that both the economic impacts and replacement costs will escalate over time.

Our report points to a new cost-driver for water infrastructure: that of more extreme weather, including greater storm severity, increased flooding, hotter heat, and increased drought severity.  These trends will adversely affect water systems – as we have seen during recent floods and Winter Storm Uri – and will require greater investment to improve their resilience.

Unfortunately, and as discussed in the report, federal funding to help state and local governments with their water infrastructure challenges has declined over time.

But this downward trend was reversed late last year when Congress approved the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or IIJA.  And this is my third, and final point for you this morning.  

The IIJA provides Texas with over half a billion dollars for the clean and drinking water state revolving funds.

Texas has five years to commit the funds, and up to 49% can be used as grants or forgivable loans.

IIJA is a different water funding source, unlike anything we have seen before.  Both the bill and the EPA have encouraged the states to use the IIJA funds to address:

  • Small, rural, and disadvantaged community needs
  • Providing technical assistance to rural communities
  • Enhancing water and wastewater system resilience to extreme weather events and cyberattacks
  • And to encourage greater regionalization of water projects.

Given the five year window, Texas needs to act sooner rather than later to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.  Towards that end, I am proud to announce that Texas 2036 has partnered with the Water Finance Exchange and the Texas Water Foundation to host a series of stakeholder meetings to discuss what we need to do to organize for success for IIJA implementation in Texas.  We had our first meeting last week with 38 participants from across Texas.  Our goal is to develop a strategic implementation plan on what steps are recommended – including changes to statute and appropriations – in order to best leverage these IIJA dollars for Texas opportunities.