Making Democracy Work

Texas Water Resources

Updates by Mary Ellen Summerlin (Hill Country) Water Issue Chair

Testimony

Coalitions and Resources

Resources

News:

  • The Texas Tribune; Trib + Water Trib+Water is a newsletter published every two weeks by The Texas Tribune and the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University. Curated by longtime journalist Carol Flake and edited by Tribune Newsletters Editor John Reynolds, Trib+Water includes the top news, events, research, data and other features on water issues in Texas, as well as relevant issues across the region and nation.

Acronyms: What Does That Mean?

  • TWDB - Texas Water Development Board
  • GCD - groundwater conservation district
  • GMA - groundwater management area
  • GAM - groundwater availability model
  • RPG - regional planning group
  • MUD - municipal water district
  • TCEQ - Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
  • SWIFT - State Water Implementation Fund for Texas

Position LWV-TX

WATER - 1971, 1974, 1978, and 2012

The League of Women Voters of Texas supports the proposition that water is a natural resource and should be managed for the benefit of the people and the protection of the environment. Further, water conservation should be mandatory, with adequate citizen education for effective water stewardship.

The League of Women Voters of Texas supports long-range state water planning that:

  • takes into consideration its social, economic, environmental, and land use implications

  • provides for development of adequate water supplies by ecologically and financially sound means

  • emphasizes conservation and reuse of water

  • is based on increased research concerning wise and efficient use of the state's land and water resources

  • affords protection for the land and for fragile ecosystems

  • establishes water availability criteria before issuing any leases, permits and licenses for new industry, business, housing, and other developments.

The League of Women Voters of Texas supports measures for the protection, conservation, and development of the groundwater resources of the state as an integral part of the comprehensive state water plan, and groundwater management that would achieve the following objectives:

  • maintain groundwater quality by preventing harmful contamination of aquifers

  • assure the long-term productivity of the state's groundwater resources and availability of groundwater supplies

  • minimize adverse effects of groundwater withdrawals, including land subsidence and reduction of spring flows

Water resources planning should also include the following:
  • detailed information concerning:

  • the hydraulic characteristics and recharge of the state's aquifers

  • quantities, locations, and trends of groundwater withdrawals

  • measures that could conserve and extend existing supplies

  • current and projected costs of ground water and alternative surface water supplies o potential conjunctive use of ground water and surface water

  • management options developed specifically for each area of the state where ground water is a significant resource and assurance that water transfers to urban areas do not endanger future rural economies

  • methods to strengthen groundwater conservation districts so they can continue to regulate groundwater use

  • full public consideration of groundwater management options including a strong state agency with enforcement powers to regulate all water transfers

  • recommendations of measures to be taken by the state, by political subdivisions of the state, and by the private sector to assure wise management of the state's groundwater resources

  • coordination of state plans for groundwater management with relevant policies and programs of the federal government and of other states.

Adequate funds should be appropriated for planning and for management of the state's groundwater resources.

Position LWV-US

The LWV-US Policy statements concerning water issues.

Resource Management
Promote resource conservation, stewardship and long-range planning, with the responsibility for managing natural resources shared by all levels of government.

Water Resources. Support measures to reduce pollution in order to protect surface water, groundwater and drinking water.

Waste Management. Promote policies to reduce the generation and promote the reuse and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes.

For more information see the League of Women Voters of the United States

Issues Studies and Explanation

In the 1950s and 1960s, LWVUS positions were reached on water conservation and development and on abatement of water pollution. These positions, as well as national and state positions in other natural resource areas -- especially land use -- are relevant to action on Texas water issues.

A study of state water planning was adopted by the 1970 Convention. Impetus for the study was the 1968 Texas Water Plan, and the 1969 election in which a $3.5 billion bond program to begin implementation of the plan was narrowly defeated. The plan proposed importation of out-of-state water to West and South Texas via two large canal systems. The League consensus disagreed with that aspect of the plan, stating that additional water supplies should be developed in an ecologically sound manner from within the state, and that more efficient use should be made of existing water supplies.

The League took another look at the Texas Water Plan in 1974, following publication of a Corps of Engineers analysis of a proposal for importation of water from the Mississippi River. This consensus reaffirmed our 1971 positions.

The 1977 Convention deleted the position statement that additional water supplies should come from within the state. Delegates continued to oppose massive water transfer projects but felt that opposition should be based on other League positions. The 1977 Convention also adopted a study of groundwater management and protection, and consensus was reached in November, 1978.

The water position was updated in 2012 after the study of Water as a Commodity was completed. The changes specified that the LWV believes that water is a natural resource and should be managed for the benefit of the people and the protection of the environment. Further, water conservation should be mandatory, groundwater conservation districts should be strengthened so they can continue to regulate groundwater use, water transfers should be regulated by the state, and rural economies should not be endangered by water transfers to urban areas.

Focus: An update of our Water position to consider the competition for water in Texas, including governmental policy, public interest rights, and water resource protection concerns.

Scope:

  • Analyze current state regulations which govern the sale or transfer of water rights
  • Consider ramifications if Texas were to classify water as a commodity rather than a natural resource
  • Explore options such as a state-run water marketing administration
  • Assess laws that would be needed for interstate or international water transfers
  • Assess the best use of our water (i.e., public interest concerns, environmental factors, effect on third parties, future water requirements)

Study Committee: Mina Johnson (Amarillo), Chair, Miriam Foshay (Dallas), Deanna Frisk (Comal Area), Karen Haschke (Austin Area), Sandra Heatherley (Corpus Christi), Tonya Kleuskens (Amarillo), Mary Vogelson (Dallas)

Timeline: 2010-2011: Research by the committee. Local Leagues may hold Regional Water Forums to educate members and the public about their area's water resource issues. Summer 2011: Facts and Issues published and consensus questions approved by LWV-TX. Fall 2011: Local Leagues reach consensus and report to LWV-TX Board. Winter 2012: Position statement announced and adopted at Convention 2012.

History of LWV-TX Action

1976-1980: When Proposition 1 authorizing $400 million in Texas Water Development bonds was placed on the ballot in November 1976, the League worked to defeat this proposition. League opposition was based on the absence of financial safeguards guaranteeing timely repayment by beneficiaries of water development projects, absence of environmental protection provisions, and inadequate information as to what projects would be funded. The amendment was defeated. Proposition 2, authorizing $100 million in water quality enhancement bonds, was supported by the League and approved by voters.

Over the next several years, testimony based on League water positions was presented on the state lignite mining program, state water quality management plans, hazardous waste disposal legislation, the High Plans Ogallala Aquifer Study, the federal Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act, and a proposed EPA Groundwater Protection Strategy.

LWV-TX Education Fund projects on water issues included co-sponsorship of a regional floodplain conference in 1975; and "Project Safewater" in 1976, which explained through a slide program and information kit the implications of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act for Texas communities.

1981-1984: In 1981, League action again focused on opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment. Proposition 4 would have dedicated half of the state's "excess" revenues in each biennium to a new water fund. In addition to the concern that prompted our opposition to the 1976 amendment, the League opposed the constitutional dedication of state revenues, in accordance with our position on Financing State Government. The League also pointed out that the revision of the Texas Water Plan initiated in 1976 had not been completed. The amendment was defeated.

Shortly after the November 1981 election, the governor called for revision of the Texas Water Plan. The state League and local Leagues testified at forums on water planning issues in 1982 and at hearings on a draft revision of the plan in 1983. In September 1984, the Water Development Board adopted a revised plan, "Water for Texas: A Comprehensive Plan for the Future," which emphasized water conservation and reuse, and recognized that importation of water was not feasible under present conditions.

In 1981, LWV-TX Education Fund published Fresh Water for Texas Bays and Estuaries.

1985-1988: The 1985 legislative session passed a major package of water legislation. Prior to and during the session, the League lobbied to strengthen provisions for water conservation and protection--especially for groundwater. The package consisted of water conservation programs, protection of freshwater inflows to estuaries, creation of groundwater conservation districts in critical areas, and expanded powers for groundwater districts. These initiatives were funded by a bond issue authorized by voters in the November 1985 election. The League also supported a related ballot issue that passed, authorizing state bonds for an Agricultural Water Conservation fund, if approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature by 1989.

The League worked with the Water Development Board and the Water Commission for effective implementation of the new conservation requirements and groundwater district provisions. In the 1987 legislative session, some League-supported proposals (for example, stronger septic tank regulation) passed, but all statewide groundwater bills failed.

In 1987-88 local Leagues and the state League participated in the League of Women Voters Education Fund's "Community Drinking Water Survey," interviewing water officials on impacts of the 1986 Safe Drinking Water Act amendments. At Texas Water Commission hearings, LWV-TX testified for more stringent water quality standards and more effective controls of non- point source pollution.

1989-1993: The League reviewed the thirteen critical groundwater area reports published by the Texas Water Commission in 1989 and 1990, and urged the commission to address promptly the more serious problems described in the report. Also in 1990, the state League and several local Leagues presented statements at the Texas Water Development Board's public hearings on draft revisions of the state water plan. We commended the plan's emphasis on water conservation and subsequently worked successfully for legislation adopting water-conserving plumbing standards, as recommended in the plan.

In 1990, we attended numerous meetings of the legislature's interim committee on the Edwards Aquifer and testified in the 1991 legislative session on two bills proposing management of the aquifer, neither of which passed. A League priority in the 1993 legislative session was the creation of a regional management entity for the Edwards Aquifer. The bill the League supported passed in the final days of the session.

In the fall of 1991, LWV-TX testified for a more effective Integrated Environmental Plan for the Mexico-U.S. Border Area and supported a constitutional amendment authorizing use of $150 million of Water Development Fund bonds for water and wastewater services to colonias.

The League was represented on the Texas Water Commission's Clean Water Council, which submitted its report in November 1992, and on the Clean Texas 2000 Awards Committee, which recommended the April 1993award winners.

1994-1995: In 1994, LWV-TX Education Fund sponsored a workshop in New Braunfels highlighting local League work to protect water quality in south central Texas. Since early 1994, League members have been participating in regional advisory committees to the Trans-Texas Water Program, which is considering future water supply options to be recommended in the 1996 revision of the Texas Water Plan. The League is also represented on Watershed Texas, a statewide watershed management project of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission's (TNRCC) Office of Water Resource Management.

In the 1995 legislative session, the League supported the bill which was passed to meet U.S. Justice Department requirements for the election of the Edwards Aquifer Authority Board. We opposed several bills that did not pass, including those lowering water quality standards and limiting pollution control authority of the TNRCC.

1997: Major new water legislation, known as SB 1, was drafted by various groups during 1996 in response to a statewide drought and also to provide a broader state framework for dealing with the state's current and future water needs. Early in the session representatives of several public interest and environmental groups, including the League, met to discuss the proposed legislation and to identify essential elements of a state water bill.

A resulting policy statement was submitted to legislative staff and these elements were incorporated into the final bill. Key provisions include:

  • adoption of a new state water plan which will incorporate regional plans for drought planning and water conservation by September 1, 2001

  • retention of the right of capture doctrine for state groundwater

  • inter-basin transfers approved by the TNRCC would become "junior" water rights with little or no water to transfer out of the basin during a drought

  • stream flow needs for streams and rivers and environmental flow for bays and estuaries will continue to compete with perceived water use needs of agricultural, municipal, and industrial needs
  • formulation of a state water plan addressing different needs of managing water in various regions of the state.

The 1997 appropriations bill contains funding of $36 million for the water legislation during the biennium. An Interim Committee on Water Resources and Development and Management will be created to study a broad range of water issues, including water marketing, and make recommendations to the next legislature. The League plans to monitor this committee during the biennium.

Another bill reinstates the funding mechanism for the state's Clean Rivers Program, which would have expired in 1998. However, the population threshold for cities required to establish a water pollution abatement program was increased, weakening the program.

Two constitutional amendments concerning water will be on the ballot in November 1997. One would create Water Development Fund II. The other would allow local governments to give tax breaks to businesses which install water conserving equipment.

1999: LWV-TX worked on water quality and protection issues and on budget issues. LWV-TX had as a key priority the provision of money for water quality and quantity issues. The League successfully supported full funding for the ongoing regional water planning process set up by SB 1 in 1997.

LWV-TX joined environmental groups in asking the legislature to fund programs and employees in the storm water permitting process, a water quality program that emphasizes working to maintain the designated uses of specific rivers and streams, water quality improvement and water modeling, and revenue for the National Estuary implementation program for Corpus Christi and Galveston Bay areas. We met with mixed success, but have made an important stride forward in working on the legislative budget and appropriation processes.

The two most important bills, both opposed by LWV-TX, concerned ground water protection and a wastewater discharge bill that restricted the opportunity for public participation. The groundwater bill, originating in the House, was directed at the regulation of the Edwards Aquifer, and would have put a moratorium on the pending Edwards Aquifer (protection) Rules that the League supported. The bill would have established a committee to study the rules adopted by TNRCC that had not yet gone into effect. The League opposed the bill, believing that the rules offered increased protection to the contributing, as well as the recharge zone, and were already the result of a large amount of public participation. The bill did not pass; the rules went into effect June 1.

The second bill, which did pass and was signed into law, authorizes TNRCC to lift the "cap" on wastewater discharges eligible for a general permit. Previously the law had a discharge limit, which if exceeded resulted in having to go through a permit hearing process. These general permits restrict the opportunity for public participation by replacing the contested case hearing process with a notice and comment provision. The bill was strongly opposed by LWV-TX and environmental organizations. This bill serves as an example of legislation that deals with more than one issue, in this case public participation and water quality.

2001: The legislature continued its examination of Texas water policy and planning. SB 2 (Brown), signed by the governor, revised the state's regional water planning process, established the Texas Water Policy Council, provided direction on water management strategies, and set up a comprehensive study of water resource issues that will occur during the 2002 interim. The bill strengthened the ability of underground water districts to control the pumping of groundwater. The bill also established the water infrastructure fund to be funded through the Texas Water Development Board. LWV-TX did not support or oppose (during the session or the election) a proposed constitutional amendment to authorize an additional $2 billion in general obligation bonds for water projects.

2003: For a session that was not supposed to deal with water there were a large number of significant bills introduced and passed.

These include bills that:

  • deal with the Texas Water Development Board administration and funding including the Water Infrastructure Fund, the Rural Community Water and Wastewater Loan Fund, and the Rural Water Assistance Fund

  • consolidate various agricultural assistance funds

  • create the Water Conservation Implementation Task Force

  • require all water conservation plans and drought contingency plans submitted with a water rights permit or financial assistance application to include specific, quantifiable 5-year and 10-year targets for water savings

  • establish the Study Commission on Water for Environmental Flows, prohibits TCEQ from issuing a new permit for in-stream flows dedicated to environmental needs or bay and estuary inflows, and clarifies that groundwater conservation districts may adopt different well spacing or production limits for distinct aquifers or for different geographic areas within their boundaries

  • require the Texas Water Development board to study, investigate, and survey the development of water supplies from seawater desalination

  • relate to notice of groundwater contamination that may affect a public or private drinking water well

  • relate (a) to prohibiting the creation or enforcement of certain restrictive covenants that undermine water conservation; (b) to the authority of certain nonprofit water supply corporations to establish and enforce customer water conservation measures; (c) to the definition, use, regulation, and permitting of grey-water

  • relate to requiring water rights applicants and holders, water utilities, and conservation and reclamation districts to adopt and implement certain water conservation measures

  • relate to lawn irrigation and rainwater cutoffs, wastewater, the discharge of wastewater into waters of the state, storm water, land application of sludge, and water supplies.

Bills that would affect low-flow toilets and washing machines conservation standards did not pass. Two other water bills that did not pass addressed issues relative to small community water systems that face exceptional physical or financial circumstances in attempting to comply with federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements relating to naturally occurring material. This legislation could have led to the loss of federal funds.

2005: The latest super water bill SB 3 (Armbrister) (in line with SB 1 and SB 2) died in the House, a victim of late filing and bad timing. The bill would have covered conservation, groundwater, in stream flows, protection of the bays and estuaries, and other topics. At the last moment representatives were looking for bills to attach environmental flows and the protection of the bays and estuaries amendments. However no significant water legislation passed. Senator Armbrister filed a bill in the special session dealing with Article I of SB 3, environmental flows and bay and estuary protection but the bill was not added to the Governor's list for the special session. The Governor had said that school finance took priority before anything else would be considered.

Several water bills that failed to pass. SB 352 (Madla), relating to the protection of groundwater under state lands, was sent to House Land and Resource Management where it died. HB 2429 (Puente), relating to water and energy saving performance standards for commercial clothes- washing machines, died in House Calendars, and was strongly opposed by washing machine manufacturers. HB 1223 (Puente), relating to performance standards for toilets sold in this state, died in House Calendars. This bill, so important to water conservation in the State, was strongly opposed by manufacturers. HB 1226 (Puente), that would establish a Water Conservation Advisory Council, was placed on the General State Calendars, where it died.

Water bills that passed include HB 2428 (Puente), relating to water and energy saving performance standards for commercial pre-rinse spray valves, HB 1224 (Puente), relating to a study of the effects of take-or-pay contracts on water conservation, and HB 1225 (Puente), relating to the grounds for an exemption from cancellation of a water right for nonuse.

2006: The 2nd 5 Year SB1 State Water Plan was adopted in the fall following statewide hearings. 2007: HB 3 (Puente) supported by the LWV-TX creates a basin-by-basin process for developing recommendations to meet in-stream needs, requires the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to adopt recommendations in the form of environmental flow standards, and creates the Environmental Flow Advisory Group to oversee the process.

HB 4 (Puente) supported by the LWV-TX, is a water conservation bill that represents the consensus recommendations of the state's Water Conservation Implementation Taskforce established by the legislature in 2003. The bill establishes a statewide water conservation public awareness program to educate Texas residents about water conservation.

SB 3 (Averitt) opposed by LWV-TX, passed. This bill became a reservoir designation bill. The passage of SB 3 does not mean that reservoirs will automatically be built, but may set up conflicts that will take years to resolve.

2011: SB 332 (Fraser) originally attempted to reaffirm groundwater as a property right ("rule of capture") by describing it as a "vested" property right. The result would have been to threaten the balance between landowners and the 97 local groundwater conservation districts (GCD) who are the only community regulators of groundwater reservoirs. These reservoirs supply more than 60% of the state's water needs. In a compromise, the bill eventually just re-stated groundwater ownership as a landowner's "property right." Had "vested" remained in the bill, it would have been a constitutionally protected property right, becoming a statute of common law. The "vested" question was answered by the TX State Supreme Court in the Edwards Aquifer Authority vs. Day case in early 2012 when they ruled that water was indeed owned by the landowner. The full implication of this decision is to classify any restriction in the use or sale of a landowners' water as a legal "taking" which must then be remunerated! The problem now returns to the legislature and the courts to decide how to guarantee the best use of water for the people. In commenting on this Texas Court decision, the New York Times noted that Texas is the only state that "functions by the rule of capture, which allows landowners to pump essentially unlimited amounts of water. Elsewhere in the U.S. groundwater is a public resource."

2012: (March 18, 2012) There were two proposed constitutional amendments relating to water passed by the legislature for the November 2011 ballot:

  • SJR 4 (Hinojosa): This proposition is a product of the Sunset Advisory Commission's recommendations on the TX Water Development Board's (TWDB) ability to issue debt. It authorizes the TWDB to issue self-supporting general obligation fund bonds at its discretion and on a continuing basis (essentially a revolving fund). The TWDB would thus have greater flexibility in targeting needs across a longer time horizon and increase their ability to meet needs of local governments that must upgrade infrastructure to meet growing populations. This amendment passed.

  • SJR16 (Estes): This is the "Water Stewardship Amendment" that would add "water stewardship purposes" to the agricultural exemption option (aka the "open-space valuation option") for property tax valuations. According to the bill analysis, adding water stewardship purposes to the land management practices would give land owners "a tool to better manage their property and incentivize land owners to invest in projects that improve water quality and quantity for the state." This amendment failed.

Otherwise, this session was a disappointment for all hoping that the issues of water demands and shortages would be faced once and for all. The new, increasing challenges involving groundwater depletion, pollution and toxic spillage resulting from natural gas drilling and soil fracturing (i.e., "fracking) will be in the forefront of water planning and permitting for some time to come.

2013: LWV-Texas followed 23 bills during the session, of which seven passed. The most important water bill signed by the governor was HB 4, which sets up the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) funding for implementation of the so-called SWIFT loan fund (State Water Implementation Fund of Texas) and bond sales to support SWIFT.

Also, this bill re-organized the TWDB from being run by an administrative voluntary board of six appointed by the governor to a paid professional board of three, one each appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house, respectively. The reorganization of the TWDB was effective Sept. 1, 2013. However, the SWIFT funds would not be established until the constitutional amendment proposal (SJR 1) passed by the voters in the statewide election November 2013. This vote would authorize the state to move $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to set up the funds. There were lots of pros and cons on this proposal, and LWV-TX undertook a campaign to pass the amendment, including a press conference, working with other groups, and working with local Leagues, sending them blue wristbands to show their support. The amendment passed by a wide margin.