In Sustainable Stormwater Management, Water Supply
Water infrastructure needs

We are facing huge water infrastructure investment needs.

On November 8th, 2011, Texans will visit the polls to vote on 10 Texas Constitution amendments (Sample Ballot). Two of the eight amendments are related to water issues, Proposition #2 and Proposition #8. While I feel that both amendments will help our water infrastructure and local water resources, I believe there are a few items people should know about the propositions before they vote.

Proposition #2 (SJR 4)

SJR 4 would amend the constitution to authorize the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to issue additional general obligation bonds on a continuing basis, with the restriction that the total amount of bonds outstanding at any time does not exceed $6 billion. The use of bond proceeds authorized by passage of Proposition #2 is limited to financial assistance to political subdivisions for water, wastewater, and flood control projects. You can read a detailed bill analysis by the Senate Research Center.

The proposed amendment would appear on the ballot as follows:

The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $6 billion at any time outstanding.

This amendment is necessary because it is estimated that TWDB’s current bonding authority will be exhausted in 2013. This type of constitutional amendment is nothing new. Since 1957, the legislature and voters have approved various constitutional amendments authorizing the TWDB to issue bonds for water-related projects. Most recently, the voters of Texas passed Proposition 19 in 2001 that provided the issuance of additional $2 billion worth of general obligation bonds by the TWDB.[1. Ballotpedia] Of the available $4.23 billion in financing approved in previous elections, $3.29 billion has been issued. TWDB has an excellent record of managing these bond portfolios without any defaults in the history of its loan programs. In addition, TWDB bonds consistently receive AAA ratings and has outperformed the state’s bond ratings.

Since the state does not directly fund the projects that would qualify under this amendment, increased funding for improvements to our water and wastewater infrastructure is welcome. Funding for water infrastructure investment will always be made by cities and water suppliers, but at least the TWDB can provide loans at lower interest rates. According to the ASCE Report Card for America’s Infrastructure for Texas, Texas has $33.81 billion in water and wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years. In the recent Draft Texas Water Plan 2012 prepared, the TWDB estimated $53 billion is needed in infrastructure for new water supplies over the next 40 years.  Therefore, this $6 billion is just a drop in the bucket, but at least it is a start.

Proposition #8 (SJR 16)

SJR 16 would amend the constitution by requiring the legislature to provide for taxation of open space land devoted to water stewardship purposes on the basis of its productive capacity. You can read a detailed bill analysis of SB 449 (Texas State Senate version of bill) by the House Research Organization that provides many pro and con points for the amendment.

The proposed amendment would appear on the ballot as follows:

The constitutional amendment providing for the appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes of open-space land devoted to water-stewardship purposes on the basis of its productive capacity.

Basically, Proposition #8 would add water stewardship to the open space exemptions traditionally given to farmers, ranchers, and the timber industry. Therefore, if a landowner already receives an agricultural exemption for tax valuation, then they would be eligible for the water stewardship exemption. The amendment would not broaden eligibility for an agricultural valuation, but would simply encourage landowners to manage their land to benefit Texas’ water resources.

Private landowners must show they are engaging in at least three of nine conservation activities that, according to the House Research Organization, include:

  • erosion control
  • habitat stewardship benefiting water quality or conservation
  • restoration of native aquatic and riparian animal and plant species
  • implementation of practices resulting in reduced water usage from a well that was exempt from certain permitting
  • riparian and wetland habitat and buffer restoration and protection
  • allowance of groundwater and surface water monitoring for data collection purposes in accordance with state water or groundwater management area planning
  • invasive aquatic plant and animal control
  • maintaining a water right on deposit in the Texas Water Trust under certain circumstances
  • holding a water right that authorized the use of water for instream flows dedicated to environmental needs or bay and estuary inflows under certain circumstances

The amendment would require the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to develop the implementation standards of these conservation activities. The TPWD would also have to inspect the implementation of these activities.

Proposition #8 would be revenue neutral since the landowner would need to have an ag exemption tax valuation already. Basically, this amendment would allow landowners to stop farming and implement some conservation activities to keep the same tax rate on their land. Will these conservation activities ultimately help the watershed and thus the water supply… maybe?

Since landowners who are using their land for farming purposes are already performing some of these conservation activities, I don’t see this amendment really changing much of anything. It definitely won’t hurt any current efforts to improve the quality of our state waters. Since everyone wants to help with our future water situation, I am sure this proposition will pass since it has “water-stewardship purposes” in the wording.

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