Props to the Legislature for passing Bill 4
In an impressive feat of leadership and resolve, in the final days of the regular Legislative Session this Spring, Texas Senators and Representatives approved House Bill 4 which, if approved by voters in November, will provide $2 billion in financing for water infrastructure projects in the years ahead.
This action could not have come at a more opportune time as the drought in our state continues unabated with no end in sight.
Importantly, Legislators recognized that the cheapest water for us to get is the water we already have, and thus a substantial portion of these funds will be dedicated to water conservation projects.
Just as significant, additional funding will be made available to begin to address critical environmental flows in our rivers and streams, including iconic watercourses like the San Marcos and Guadalupe.
As welcome as this infusion of dollars is at this critical time, it is also important for us to understand that it will not be enough to solve the problem. We can’t simply build our way out of this one.
For example we in Texas still treat groundwater and surface water as if they were different substances and this disconnect imperils resources like the San Marcos Springs in the years ahead. The laws of Texas have created a situation in which landowners in the Hill Country and water rights holders downstream have both been told that they own the same water and this will not only result in endless litigation, it is simply not sustainable.
The current litigation involving supplies of freshwater from the Guadalupe River into San Antonio Bay for the survival of the Whooping Crane must be a wake-up call for us to get serious about protecting “environmental flows” in all our rivers and streams or we invite federal intervention in every basin where endangered species occur.
Finally, we must understand that, in Texas, virtually all of our watersheds and recharge areas are on private property and we are losing them to other uses faster than any other state.
Hays County, along with Travis and Bexar counties, has stepped up to the plate and provided critical funding to protect land that is critical to maintaining both the quantity and quality of our water supplies.
State leaders must find a way to duplicate the efforts of these three counties statewide or it won’t matter how many reservoirs and other projects we build because we will have lost the landscape where the first raindrops fall.
In the short term, some polls indicate that voters in Texas do not give a high priority to water issues and this finding along with a low voter turnout could make the work of the Legislature moot. Thus it is all the more important that we continue to remind our people that water is the most essential ingredient for all of life and that we are committed to addressing it with both new infrastructure and needed policy changes over the long haul.
Dr. Andrew Sansom is Executive Director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University