AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The mayors of Houston and Dallas told lawmakers on Tuesday that they support a proposed $2 billion fund to finance water projects across the state and would like to see less red tape and more conservation efforts.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker told the House Natural Resources Committee that she supports using money from the Rainy Day Fund to create a water development bank that would help local authorities build new water projects and finance conservation efforts. Houston has invested in numerous water projects and delivers 495 million gallons a day to 470,000 customers.
She said the fund would help the rest of the state make sure there is enough water for the state's growing population.
"If the rest of the state doesn't make the same significant investment that we have, then we are out there by ourselves, and we may lose our competitive edge as a state going into the future," Parker said.
The committee was hearing testimony on House Bill 4, a proposal by Rep. Alan Ritter, R-Nederland, to create a revolving, $2 billion fund that the State Water Development Board would use to leverage financing for water projects. The board says Texans need to spend $53 billion over the next 50 years to make sure the state has enough water for a growing population, with half of the money coming from the state.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings called on lawmakers to also reduce the permitting process to make it easier and cheaper to build new water resources. He cited the experience of Dallas, which tried to build a new reservoir on the Neches River called Lake Fastrill.
The city spent millions of dollars on developing the project, filing permits and ultimately on litigation only to have the U.S. Supreme Court rule against the city, killing the project.
"The lengthy permitting process creates a situation where local governments must make a wager on getting water," Rawlings said. "If we don't deal with these water needs in 2060 it will cost us about half a million jobs in the area and $64 billion in projected income."
So far no group has come out against creating what would be called the State Water Infrastructure Fund for Texas, of SWIFT. But the measure may require Republican lawmakers to vote in favor of lifting the state's constitutional spending limit, which many conservatives do not want on their record.
Lawmakers feel a new urgency in dealing with the state's water shortage following the worst single-year drought in the state's history in 2011. Much of the state remains in drought and experts warn that it may continue and become the worst multi-year drought on record.
Jim Parks, executive director of the North Texas Municipal Water District, explained to lawmakers that his system currently serves 1.6 million customers and is projected to serve 3.8 million in 50 years. He said the authority has convinced customers to reduce water usage 12 percent through an education project, but at the same time one of the district's reservoirs, Lake Texhoma, is currently off-limits because of an invasive species.
He called on the new fund to reduce the red tape of current state funds, which he said discourages his district from using them.