On Tuesday, Texas voters handily passed a proposition that supported amending the constitution to invest $2 billion from the state’s rainy day fund into a water bank to finance water planning projects.
In a surprising display of cooperation politicians from both sides of the aisle, including Governor Rick Perry, supported the proposition. This is because they can do the math for the state’s future: water = economy. In order to attract new business and support a quickly growing population, Texas will need to overcome an ongoing cycle of drought that has left reservoirs strained and rivers over-allocated. Texas is even looking for water beyond its borders and is currently embroiled in legal battles over water rights with neighboring New Mexico, Oklahoma, and even Mexico.
As of this week 87 percent of the state is in drought, with many regions imposing strict water-use restrictions.
Governor Perry hailed the passage of Proposition 6, saying “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. 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.”
Most large environmental groups supported Proposition 6 because of its emphasis on putting nearly a third of the funding from the state water bank toward conservation and water reuse projects. However some smaller environmental groups opposed the measure because it didn’t focus enough on conservation measures and already existing resources.
The oil, gas, chemical, and construction industries in Texas are big water users, and were in support of the proposition.
Governor Perry, known for cronyism, appointed the three new heads of the restructured Texas Water Development Board in charge of allocating the money from the $2 billion fund. Alyssa Burgin, executive director of the Texas Drought Project, worries that the fund will be another way to pipe money into the hands of the usual profiteers rather than water to those in need. She argues that water projects will be used to bring water from rural and farming communities to urban areas where powerful developers can use it to their advantage.
Paul Burka, an editor at Texas Monthly said, “The mistake that was made here was that they gave the Governor too much control over this. There’s going to be a lot of suspicion about it, a lot of distrust. I do not trust anything — anything — Rick Perry does.”
The Texas Water Development Board has a few years to figure out how projects will be prioritized and approved.
“Now the real work begins,” said Ken Kramer, Water Resources Chair, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club in a statement. “Texans need to become actively involved in regional water planning and in local government water supply decisions to make sure that the potential for Prop 6 to advance water conservation and enhance water planning is achieved.”
Laura Huffman, Texas State Director of The Nature Conservancy, expressed similar sentiments in a statement, saying “This vote marks an important first step in securing our state’s future”:
“But the work is far from over. We will all have to stay engaged as our communities consider strategies and projects for addressing water needs. Tackling conservation first, to reduce our water use in cities, agriculture, energy and industry will be the cheapest and smartest way to stretch our water supplies.”
The voters of Texas have spoken, and the money will soon start flowing. It will take continued and persistent engagement on their part to make sure water keeps flowing in the face of population growth, industry and development demand, and unpredictable precipitation due to climate change. This means staying the course even when massive flooding, such as occurred in Central Texas last week, makes water scarcity seem a distant notion.