Executive Director, Environment Texas
Executive Director, Environment Texas
AUSTIN – With a formal public comment period soon to begin on rules governing a new state water infrastructure fund, and amid ongoing drought, Environment Texas today announced plans to go door to door across Texas this summer to build public support for prioritizing water conservation and protection of Texas rivers. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is scheduled to release draft rules next week to govern the handling of billions of dollars in loans approved by voters in November.
“The drought has shown us that we can’t continue with business-as-usual water policy,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “We have an historic opportunity to create a more balanced water future that restores our rivers and streams while sustainably meeting communities’ water needs.”
On November 5, Texas voters approved Proposition 6, which authorizes a new state water infrastructure fund backed with a $2 billion transfer from the state’s rainy day fund. The TWDB is expected to release draft rules to implement HB 4, the law which governs the new water fund, on June 17. The TWDB will then hold a public comment period until September 1 to solicit feedback on the draft rule, which will be finalized by December. Environment Texas is urging the TWDB to adopt rules that maximize the investment in water conservation and prohibit use of state funds for water projects that would cause significant harm to the environment. Texas law requires that “the state water plan shall … protect the agricultural and natural resources of the entire state.”
For example, Environment Texas warned the state to avoid water projects harmful to Texas rivers, including the Trinity, Guadalupe and Sulphur rivers.
- Water withdrawals from the Guadalupe River have led to the deaths of 23 birds in the world’s only remaining flock of migrating whooping cranes. Despite flows that are already inadequate, the 2012 water plan includes proposals for more diversions from the river.
- The Trinity River provides half of the freshwater in Galveston Bay, which supports an economically important oyster fishery. Adequate flows from the Trinity River are essential to protecting the bay, but the Houston region has proposed withdrawing more water from the river.
- The Sulphur River is threatened by a proposal to create the Marvin Nichols Reservoir to meet growing demand for water from the Dallas-Fort Worth region. Building the reservoir would flood 25,000 acres of increasingly rare bottomland forest. In a recent public comment period, 99.5 percent of commenters called on TWDB to remove the project from the State Water Plan.
HB 4 requires that at least 20 percent of the funding support water conservation projects and another 10 percent for rural or agricultural water conservation projects. Environment Texas urged TWDB to clarify that those are two distinct requirements and an individual agricultural conservation project won’t count toward both (thereby diminishing the total amount spent on conservation). Environment Texas also urged that consumer-side conservation programs, such as helping homes and businesses install drought resistant landscaping or water-efficient appliances, be made eligible for funding.
Wasteful water use, coupled with drought, has lowered water levels in Texas’ rivers. Almost half of measurements taken on June 7, 2014 by the U.S. Geological Survey showed river water levels were less than 25 percent of normal and multiple measurements showed record-low water levels. Lower water levels hurt habitat, threaten wildlife, strain drinking water supplies, and disrupt outdoor recreational activities.
Wasteful water use occurs across Texas and throughout the economy, imperiling Texas’ water supply. Agricultural, municipal and industrial water consumers withdraw more water from rivers and aquifers than is necessary to irrigate crops, maintain landscaping, and produce electricity. At least 500 billion gallons of water are wasted each year, enough to meet the municipal water needs of 9 million Texans.
Environment Texas staff will go door-to-door across Texas this summer educating the public about the drought and the need for conservation, while collecting public comments to TWDB. The group plans to speak face to face with tens of thousands of Texans and collect at least 6000 comments.