The state’s reconfigured Water Development Board, which officially will begin work this week, faces the daunting task of trying to quench the thirst of a drought-stricken state.
When Carlos Rubinstein, the incoming chairman, convenes the board on Tuesday, he will oversee an effort to make sure the state is prepared to meet its ever-growing water needs.
“I think the discussion we’re going to have from Day One — and going forward — is clearly the importance of being able to meet all of our water demands,” said Rubinstein, who has been serving on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Right off the bat, the board will have to select an executive administrator.
The members also will need to start thinking about how to proceed if voters approve Proposition 6, the statewide ballot measure in November that would establish the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas to finance water projects around the state using $2 billion from the state’s rainy day fund.
Additionally, the new Texas Water Development Board will have to immediately engage in scores of conversations with varying – often competing – interests. Board members will talk to farmers, ranchers, urban planners, politicians and environmentalists as they prioritize a long list of water projects seeking funding.
Possible projects include reservoirs, pipelines, irrigation systems and conservation efforts.
Rubinstein said the board will need to start by giving regional planning groups the resources they need to identify which projects they will pitch to the board for consideration.
If Proposition 6 passes, Rubinstein said, the regional planning groups have until December, a very short time, to get their first recommendations to the board.
Rubinstein will be joined on the board by Bech Bruun, the former director of governmental appointments for Gov. Rick Perry and a former government relations manager for the Brazos River Authority, and Mary Ann Williamson, owner of MKS Natural Gas Co. and widow of the late state Rep. Ric Williamson.
The new board members, who will make $150,000 annually, will replace a board of six volunteers. In making the change, the Legislature sought to professionalize the board and ensure that full-time, paid board members made crucial decisions regarding the state’s precious water resources.
Many of the groups and individuals who will be working with the new board simultaneously expressed hope — and concern — about the new system.
Jason Skaggs of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association said he is encouraged that the board has promised to work closely with communities. But as a representative of working ranchers from rural parts of the state, Skaggs also said some of the possible projects make him nervous.
“There are always concerns when you hear the words reservoir or pipeline,” he said, noting that landowners always cringe at the thought of the state taking private land. He added that he would like to see desalination projects take top priority in areas with brackish groundwater.
Tom Pauken, a Republican candidate for governor, said he is worried that the new board isn’t diverse enough and doesn’t represent rural interests very well.
“No member appears likely to represent adequately the water interests of Texas farmers and ranchers,” Pauken said.
Rubinstein responded by saying he has experience with the agriculture community from his days working as a Rio Grande watermaster when he administered water rights on the border. He added that rural perspectives will be offered from many of the regional water interests.
Mary E. Kelly, who leads the Austin-based environmental consultancy Parula, said she always has concerns that environmentalists’ voices won’t be heard.
“The environment has never been well represented on the board,” Kelly said.
But the new board could be different, she added. “This is definitely a change,” she said, as she complimented Rubinstein and called him “very capable on water issues.”