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First Important Steps Taken by Ritter to Fund Water Plan

House Natural Resources Chairman Allen Ritter has filed legislation that will begin the process of funding the State Water Plan. A consensus appears to be emerging in the Legislature on the need to take serious and significant steps toward funding the State Water Plan. Various versions of the water plan have been drafted following the drought of record in the 1950s, with the most recent significant iteration coming from SB 1 passed in 1997 by the 75th Legislature. The statewide plan, based on input from regional water planning groups that worked to build it from the local level up, is designed to provide adequate water supplies for the state’s growing population for the next 50 years. The 2012 State Water Plan is the ninth state water plan and the third based on the regional water planning process.

Ritter filed HB 4, which would create the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas. The fund would be a special fund outside the state treasury to be administered by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). The fund would consist of money transferred or deposited to the credit of the fund by law, the proceeds of any fund or tax created by the Legislature and dedicated to the fund, any other revenue statutorily dedicated by the Legislature to the fund and any interest earned on the balance of the fund. The bill limits the TWDB to using the fund for projects included in the State Water Plan and currently authorized in particular statutes, as well as education projects developed or approved by the board and related to water resource development, water conservation or water reuse. The bill directs TWDB to prioritize projects and provide adequate financing for projects in each regional water planning area.

The bill creates an advisory committee for the fund composed of members appointed by the House speaker, the lieutenant governor and the governor. The TWDB is directed to give appropriate consideration to the recommendations of the advisory committee before adopting rules regarding the advisory committee.  

In addition, HB 11 by Ritter states that if the State Water Implementation Fund is created by the 83rd Legislature during its regular session, $2 billion will be appropriated from the Economic Stabilization Fund (popularly known as the Rainy Day Fund) to the credit of the State Water Implementation Fund. If the fund is not created, then $2 billion is to be appropriated from the Rainy Day Fund and deposited to the credit of the Texas Water Development Fund II for use by the TWDB for the purposes of the Texas Water Development Fund II. The bill would be effective Sept. 1, 2013, but only if it receives a vote from two-thirds of the members present in each chamber, the constitutional requirement for use of the Rainy Day Fund.