We know what we need to do, we just don’t want to pay for it.
On paper, at least, Texas is well-prepared to meet the water needs of its rapidly expanding population — even when Mother Nature lays down a harsh and lengthy drought.
The price tag on the plan: $53 billion. State money allocated: $1.4 billion.
If there were funds, Texas would be able to build the dams, reservoirs, pipelines, wells and other infrastructure that would ideally avoid tight water-use restrictions imposed on residents, farmers and ranchers during times of drought while also guaranteeing there would be enough water for the state’s rapidly growing population — even in 2060.
Instead, now, more than four years after the latest blueprint was published, deadlines have passed with some work barely begun, and many projects never started. Meanwhile, lakes are shrinking, rivers are drying up and temperatures are rising.
“The longer you delay implementation, the costs are going to go up,” said Carolyn Brittin, a planning official at the Texas Water Development Board, which must publish a revised plan by January.
The Lege, of course, failed to do anything about this. As Forrest Wilder wrote back in May, there was a bill in place, there just wasn’t enough support for it.
Even as an historical drought grips the whole state, a measure to pump money into the underfunded state water plan has failed at the Texas Legislature. Rep. Allan Ritter, a Democrat-turned-Republican from rainy Southeast Texas, said the legislation died in the Calendars Committee because it included new fees unacceptable to the Republican supermajority in the House.
“We’re fighting so many fiscal battles,” Ritter said. “I just can’t get the members to lock onto it.”
Ritter’s idea was to finally come up with a permanent source of funding for a backlog of water-supply projects contemplated by the state water plan. By 2060, it’s estimated that Texas will need to spend $52 billion to avoid water shortages. But Ritter’s approach, consisting of two funding sources, never had a chance.
One, he wanted to impose a new monthly “tap fee” on people and businesses – an extra $1 per month for residential water bills. Two, he wanted to take $500 million from the System Benefit Fund, a much-abused pot of money that was supposed to help poor people pay for their utility bills. Now it mostly just sits in an account to help the Legislature balance the budget.
The proposed changes would’ve been put to the voters in November as a proposed constitutional amendment. The money would’ve helped finance hundreds of proposed projects, including new reservoirs, water conservation efforts, pipelines, and desalination.
I disagree with raiding the System Benefit Fund, but that sort of chicanery was par for the course this session. Is there anyone out there who thinks Ritter’s plan would not have been ratified by the voters? Is there anyone who thinks that if the Lege knew then what it knows now about how bad this drought would be that they wouldn’t have taken this more seriously? Nothing like looming catastrophe to focus the mind, I guess. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the next Lege will finally tackle this.