It’s difficult to believe there’s anyone in Texas who doesn’t understand the immediate need to address water infrastructure. With a state as vast and geographically diverse as Texas, we don't always have water in the right places. That's why we must invest in infrastructure to develop the water-supplies for the areas that need it.
The fundamental truth is this: If we don’t deal with this problem now, it holds the potential of inflicting catastrophic damage upon our economy and our very way of life.
And every session we kick this can down the road, the danger becomes more pronounced and the price tag for dealing with it grows larger.
We can take a historic step toward resolving our water deficit with House Bill 11 by Rep. Allan Ritter, which provides a meaningful, one-time investment in water infrastructure to keep our state viable for future economic growth.
Our population is now over 26 million and increasing by more than 1,000 a day. We continue to attract key employers from around the world seeking to expand or relocate. And our agriculture sector continues to help feed the world.
These are three thirsty variables in a troubling equation that adds up to severe water deficits in portions of our state in the decades to come, and even sooner if we suffer through a serious drought like the one we experienced in the 1950s. Economic models indicate that a drought of that magnitude could cost Texans $116 billion in lost income.
If we have such a drought, by 2060 – with the population at that time expected to be over 46 million – we’ll likely be facing a deficit of 8.3 million acre-feet. (An acre-foot is roughly equivalent to the average annual water usage of three to four households.)
In addition to basic quality-of-life issues, this need cuts us across all areas, including economic development. While we enjoy our status as a prime relocation site, companies keep a close eye on the quality of a location’s water and transportation infrastructure when making the final decision on where to go. If we want to retain our status as the nation’s epicenter for job creation, we need to address this issue now, and address it aggressively.
The good news is that current economic conditions and available balances in the Rainy Day Fund provide a unique opportunity for the state to partner with communities by offering financing to develop and implement new water supplies. HB 11’s one-time transfer of $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund would capitalize a newly-created perpetual fund that, over time, has the capacity to finance $27 billion of identified assistance needed in the 2012 State Water Plan, which outlines the water needs of our state for the next 50 years.
Historically, water funding has been dependent on the Legislature to appropriate general revenue to pay debt service on bonds issued for specific projects. Relying on this piecemeal method of funding is more expensive and less effective than this idea. For example, if we funded the Water Plan strictly by tapping general revenue, by 2060 we’d have spent somewhere between $8 billion and $12 billion.
Combined with financing from the private sector, this one-time dispersal from the Rainy Day Fund should fully implement the plan without requiring ongoing contributions from general revenue.
Since 1997, Texas has been a recognized leader in developing and implementing strategies to ensure Texans have access to clean, reliable water supplies. As the Texas economy and population boom, it is imperative that our policies encourage water suppliers to find new ways to clean, convey, and conserve water. Upon the passage of HB 11, the state will stand ready to partner with local and regional entities to assist in the development of water infrastructure and capacity projects that will meet the water demands for the next 50 years and beyond.
This is simply not an issue we can ignore anymore.