News Feature | November 6, 2013

Texas Voters Overwhelmingly Approve $2 Billion Water Fund

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Texas voters approved a proposal during Tuesday's elections aimed at confronting water scarcity in the drought-ridden state. Analysts say the fund will ease cost burdens on utilities.

Proposition 6, an amendment to the Texas constitution, will devote $2 billion to water projects out of the state's rainy day fund, normally dedicated to safeguarding a state in the instance of a budget shortfall, Water Online previously reported

Prop 6 passed with overwhelming support, drowning out libertarian concerns about the price tag of the measure. Overall, 74 percent of voters approved it, and 26 percent voted against it. That means 836,424 people approved it, and 303,547 people voted against it, according to the state's tally of the returns. 

Gov. Rick Perry welcomed the news. “Today, the people of Texas made history, ensuring we’ll have the water we need to grow and thrive for the next five decades, without raising state taxes," he said in a statement. "Now it’s time to get to work on the projects that’ll help us meet our growing water needs, preserving and improving both our economic strength and quality of life.”

So, what will "getting to work" actually look like?

The Texas Water Development Board, the state's water regulator, will be responsible for the nitty gritty. The money will become available in two years, Carlos Rubinstein, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, explained in the Valley Star. 

“We are already working on the next steps to ensure we have clear rules and project prioritization criteria in place before the funds will be available in 2015," he said. "I encourage citizens to get involved with their local water planning efforts and our public rulemaking process."

The fund will "make low-interest loans for water infrastructure, conversation and for reservoir projects in the state," the Dallas Business Journal reported. The Dallas Morning News reported that the money will be key for high-budget projects, such as pipelines," because they can take decades to build and cost billions of dollars, officials said."

The funding process will look like this, according to NPR's StateImpact: After the project is approved by the board, it will go before an advisory committee. The committee includes the state comptroller, three members appointed by the lieutenant governor and three members appointed by the speaker of the House. 

"Roughly a third of the funding in the programs are set to go towards conservation projects, an aspect of the plan that helped win support from many environmental groups," a separate NPR piece said. Funding for rural projects is also written into the plan. 

The agency "has a few years to figure out how projects will be prioritized and approved, and what kinds of projects will fit the 'conservation' label," the NPR report said. 

The money has to go to projects that are in the state water development plan, the Star-Telegram reported. "One example could be construction of Lake Ralph Hall, a proposed reservoir that would be built north of Greenville and would serve a large swath of Denton County," the report said. 

Overall, Prop 6 is a win for utilities, according to analysts. 

If it hadn't been approved, greater infrastructure cost burdens would have fallen on water and wastewater plants, said Laura Huffman, director of the non-profit group Nature Conservation in an NPR article.  

Without Prop 6, local utilities would "have to absorb the full brunt of the cost of these projects. But also the cost of creative solutions like conservation,” she said.