What’s next for Texas water infrastructure policy?

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 28, the headline water infrastructure bill from the regular legislative session. Abbott’s signature means that several important parts of the bill take effect on Sept. 1. These include the creation of a new fund dedicated to expanding our state’s new water supply portfolio, providing technical assistance to small and rural communities to help with water loss audits and establishing a program to enhance public education on the importance of water to our drought-prone state.

Abbott’s approval of SB 28 doesn’t end the water policy discussion for this year, however. Lawmakers wrote SB 28 to work in concert with a series of other bills that both propose to amend the Texas Constitution and make a significant investment in water infrastructure. The decision on whether to make these policy changes permanent rests with Texas voters this November.

Now that SB 28 is law, here’s what comes next:

1) Texas voters will need to approve the Texas Water Fund in November.

SB 28 creates a new fund, the Texas Water Fund, that may be used for providing financial assistance for developing new water supplies, fixing deteriorating water systems and addressing leaking infrastructure. The Texas Water Fund is a constitutionally-created and dedicated fund. This means that voters must approve an amendment to the Texas Constitution creating the Texas Water Fund during the constitutional amendment election on Nov. 7.

The yes or no ballot language for this amendment will be pretty simple: “The constitutional amendment creating the Texas water fund to assist in financing water projects in this state.” If a majority of voters approve this amendment in November, then Texas will have a new, needed and flexible fund to address our state’s long-term water infrastructure challenges. This also means we can move on to…

2) If voters approve the Texas Water Fund, then the fund gets a $1 billion down payment.

The Legislature approved a supplemental appropriations bill that authorizes the deposit of $1 billion to the Texas Water Fund if voters approve the constitutional amendment this November. This would be a meaningful down payment for the long-term water infrastructure challenges Texas faces, including the need for new water supplies and fixing aging, deteriorating systems.

Should voters reject the constitutional amendment creating the Texas Water Fund, the $1 billion would not be allocated toward water infrastructure, and would remain in the state’s treasury.

3) We will still need to talk about investments in water infrastructure.

Voter approval of the Texas Water Fund this November would establish a new financial strategy for addressing Texas’ water infrastructure challenges. And the $1 billion appropriation would constitute a meaningful down payment toward addressing those challenges.

The long-term price tag for addressing our water infrastructure needs is significant, however. Over the next half-century, Texas will need to spend over $150 billion on new water supplies, fixing aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and developing flood control and mitigation projects.

This means that the conversation about our water infrastructure, and what it means to our state’s continued growth and survival, won’t be over if voters approve the Texas Water Fund. The larger issue of continued investments, and possibly even dedicated revenue streams for water infrastructure, remains.

In the weeks ahead Texas 2036 will discuss other key water bills passed in 2023, as well as why the constitutional amendment proposed by SJR 75 is needed.

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