AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The part-time board that oversees Texas water projects has been ineffective and should be replaced by a full-time board with more funding and accountability, a state senator told colleagues Tuesday in asking for $2 billion to pay for future water needs.
Sen. Troy Fraser, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, blasted the Texas Water Development Board for failing to set priorities. He said he asked the board more than two years ago to give him a list of the 50 most important water projects in the state and that he's still waiting for an answer.
Often, he said, it's difficult to get the six part-time board members on the phone to discussion the state's water issues.
"Every time you ask them a question, they give you a non-answer and that's part of the frustration I'm having," the Marble Falls Republican told his committee. "Every group believes their project is the most important and the competition between the 16 (water planning groups) at times has been problematic."
Fraser is the lead sponsor of a plan to overhaul the water board and taking $2 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund to create a new water development fund. He wants to create a full-time, three-member board that will use the fund to finance some of the 562 proposed water projects across the state.
In 2011, Texas underwent the worst one-year drought in the state's history and still has not fully recovered. The State Water Plan says the state needs to spend $53 billion over the next 50 years in order to meet the growing water demand.
The Legislative Budget Board told lawmakers that the new fund could leverage enough bond money to cover those costs. Other alternatives included creating or increasing water-related taxes and fees to cover the costs of new water projects.
Fraser's Senate Bill 4 would allocate money for water projects so that 10 percent goes to rural infrastructure and 10 percent goes for conservation. But he was quick to add that he wants to give the public and other lawmakers plenty of time to comment on and help shape the bill over the next few weeks.
"I am throwing this out for discussion ... to find out the direction the Legislature wants to go," Fraser said. "This is one we're going to work on for a while."
Besides concentrating the board and creating a State Water Fund of Texas, the bill would create a nine-member advisory panel that would review projects put forward by regional water planning committees. The panel would then prioritize water projects and recommend them to the board for financing.
On Tuesday, the committee only heard invited testimony in support of the bill. Fraser promised public testimony would come later.
Senate Bill 4: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=83R&Bill=SB4