Thursday, February 29, 2024

State plans to aid water supply, infrastructure in 2024

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Multiple communities in the tri-county area faced challenges with water availability during the summer and were subject to water usage restrictions.

The Texas Legislature is hopefully easing that concern with a $1 billion-water fund.

Creating the Texas Water Fund was one of the constitutional amendments that Texas voters passed in November. The fund is expected to cover finding new water sources or importing water as well as supplementing the Water Development Board’s existing programs that fix infrastructure.

At the Springtown Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon in January, state Rep. Glenn Rogers called Proposition 6 that created the Texas Water Fund as “really near and dear to (his) heart.”

“We have something like 136 billion gallons of water lost every year just from leaking pipes,” Rogers said at the chamber luncheon. “And we can do better than that.”

Rogers reiterated the fact that Parker County leads the state in number of wells drilled per year.

“It's not sustainable. We just can't continue to do that,” he said. “I'm really interested in trying to find some solutions that certainly recognize property rights and recognize water rights but can help with that.”

The Texas Water Fund may especially be beneficial to rural entities in the state that, because of a lack of resources, have “historically had a harder time accessing funds even when they were available,” Rogers said to The Tri-County Reporter.

Rogers filed a bill in the legislature last year, which ultimately did not pass, to create the Cross Timbers Regional Utility Authority that would have regionalized planning for water resources and infrastructure in Rogers’ district.

“We'll continue to do everything we can for anybody involved in water to help steer them in the direction of different funding sources and help in any way we can,” Rogers told The Tri-County Reporter. “One of the main purposes of a regional authority was to be in better position to receive those funds that are available because there's priority given to regional entities.”

Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District assistant general manager Jill Garcia said the Texas Water Fund is expected to not only impact surface water projects but groundwater ones as well. Garcia said funds are also planned to go toward a statewide water conservation campaign, research, technology and desalination.

“The fact that Proposition 6 passed is a really great win for Texas water because the Texas Water Development Board is now going to have specific, explicit funds to look at more of these infrastructure projects,” Garcia said. “If you're familiar with some of the things that the Water Development Board does, a lot of it is low-cost grants and loans to aging infrastructure systems. So, like for example, the city of Reno would absolutely qualify for some of those loans and funds looking to renovate their existing systems, fix aging infrastructure. So we were very relieved that it passed, and it looks like there's going to be a lot more resources for smaller Texas water systems in the future.”

Another water move from the legislature involved protecting landowners from buying property that lacked sufficient water resources. Senate Bill 2440, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires studies be conducted and approved by a licensed engineer or geoscientist to verify that enough groundwater is available in a platted subdivision that would rely on groundwater.

“With this bill, we're looking forward to the fact that landowners are now going to have some kind of idea about the future of their groundwater resources when they go to purchase a home,” Garcia said. “When they put all of their life investments into this new build, they want to know something about their water future.”

To help local governments comply with this new law, Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District has worked out an interlocal agreement with Parker and Wise counties, as well as some cities within those counties, to review the groundwater studies free of charge and give recommendations, Garcia said. This means developers — not the counties or cities in the agreement — will complete these studies and pay the conservation district’s fee to review the studies.

Garcia hopes the new legislation will “open the eyes of developers” and compel them to consider public water systems, which provide “clean water at a regular rate,” instead of private individual wells.

“If you have a public water supply in a community, there's always a chance that you can connect to another system in the future, be it a line from East Texas, be it a line to another larger municipality with water,” she said. “But if a subdivision has only private water wells, they are never going to transition to a PWS because you could never get all of those landowners to agree to the excavation, the building, the construction that would go in with those water lines versus it happening on the front end and not being detrimental to the landowners.”

Texas Water Fund, Proposition 6, Water Usage Restrictions