The proposed $2 billion water infrastructure fund that goes before Texas voters Nov. 5 could provide an unprecedented opportunity by the state to invest in water conservation. Or it could be weak tea.
Those are the views of Texas environmental leaders, who differ over a provision in the water legislation that calls for 20 percent of the money to go toward water conservation projects, such as fixing leaky pipelines or installing infrastructure for the reuse of wastewater for irrigation.
“It guarantees no money to conservation,” Jere Locke of the Texas Drought Project said at an Austin news conference Monday featuring an unusual coalition — from constitutional Republicans to the Greens — that opposes the constitutional amendment.
“It’s a boondoggle for people who want to make a lot of money on real estate speculation and to build the reservoirs. But it guarantees no money to conservation, which is our best bet,” Locke added.
The constitutional amendment on the November ballot doesn’t mention conservation. But the related legislation, which easily cleared both the Texas House and Senate this spring, says the Texas Water Development Board “shall undertake to apply not less than … 20 percent” for conservation and reuse. Another 10 percent is earmarked for rural projects that could also include improving conservation in agricultural practices.
Ken Kramer of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club said some flexibility was needed in the funding language in case communities did not bring enough conservation projects to the board for approval. Currently, only 11 percent of the requested projects in state water plan are for conservation.
Kramer maintains that lawmakers have shown a real commitment to water conservation by including the 20 percent language in the measure. Never before have they included specific conservation language in a major water funding proposal.
The Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy of Texas, Environment Texas, Ducks Unlimited and other environmental groups have endorsed Proposition 6, which would authorize drawing $2 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to create the revolving fund for water infrastructure projects. Business groups, Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative leaders of both parties are also backing the measure.
“This is a provision that has gotten a lot of attention and been debated a lot and has overwhelming support,” Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said of the 20 percent for conservation.
He added that efforts to strip that conservation language from legislation were soundly defeated in the Republican-controlled Texas House.
Environmentalists will need to keep pressure on the Water Development Board to ensure that money is spent wisely, but defeating the constitutional amendment would squander the serious opportunity to invest in conservation, Metzger said.
But Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, said Proposition 6 would lure Texas away from the only affordable future “and that is one of water efficiencies, innovation and reuse.”
It will instead encourage investments in big-ticket reservoirs and pipelines designed to deliver rural water into cities and “rests upon this enormously expensive idea that money can make it rain,” Bunch said at the news conference held beneath a line of trees near the Lower Colorado River Authority.
The loose coalition of opponents includes tea party Republicans, libertarians, Greens and political independents alongside rural landowners and urban environmentalists. Each said they come to the opposition from different perspectives but see significant problems in the $2 billion proposal.
Among them is Debra Medina, a Republican candidate for comptroller who is reportedly mulling a run for governor as an independent. She spoke at a similar news conference in Irving.
They are heavily outgunned by the proponents, who have raised about $1 million to promote the constitutional amendment.