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Texas Water: create, conserve & reuse Q&A with Senator Troy Fraser

Special to the Courier

(This is Part 2 of a Q&A by State Senator Troy Fraser, who represents the interests of Bandera County in Austin.)

In Agriculture News, published by the Texas Farm Bureau, State Senator Troy Fraser, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, talks about the future of water in Texas and what might happen regarding this precious resource in the 83rd Legislative Session in this exclusive Q&A.
The recent drought years have brought home the importance of water to many in the Lone Star State. Water supplies continue to be short as rains have failed to fill reservoirs and top off aquifers. Add to the mix a $53 billion estimate by the Texas Water Development Board to fund water sources and infrastructure to meet the needs of a population that is expected to double in the next 50 years.
Enter Fraser, author of SB 332, the landmark legislation that was signed into law in 2011 that gives property owners a constitutionally protected right to the water beneath their land. As chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, Fraser will be a huge player in the 83rd Legislative Session. Agriculture News asked him to look in his crystal ball to see what might happen in this exclusive Q&A.
• How much money is needed to fund projects proposed in the state water plan? From where would the money come?
"The 2012 State Water Plan reported that water providers said they would need $26.9 billion in state assistance for water projects over the next 50 years. The Texas Water Development Board has run several models showing how much it would take to fund all 500-plus projects in the State Water Plan over the course of several decades.
"The $2 billion I have proposed from the Economic Stabilization Fund will be used to capitalize the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT). This revolving fund will provide borrowers lower rates on their loans and a deferral of principal and interest for a specified period of time. Repayment deferral helps borrowers build a project before it starts collecting revenue from that project."
• SB 4 would allow funding for conservation projects for agriculture. What types of projects might this include?
"Under the law, a project may only be funded with the $2 billion revolving fund if it is in the State Water Plan. Any agriculture project that is currently listed is eligible."
• The Texas Water Development Board implements the state water plan. SB 4 has proposed changes to the structure of that board. What are those changes and how would they impact how water projects are implemented?
"The future of our state depends on an adequate infrastructure. The decisions about how we spend our limited resources to enhance our water supply need to be made by a full-time board. My proposal would change the Texas Water Development Board to a three- member full-time board. I believe that prioritizing projects and making decisions about which water projects get funded is important enough to require the work of a full-time board."
• Under SB 4, how would projects be prioritized?
"Not all the projects in the State Water Plan actually need to be built-it is a very large wish list. The newly created full-time board is an important step to prioritizing the projects. SB 4 creates the SWIFT Advisory Committee to assist the board in prioritizing projects.
"The bill also provides that rules adopted for prioritizing projects must give a higher priority to projects that either have a major effect across a region or serve an area that is projected to experience a high rate of population or economic growth."
• Would rural Texas communities have an opportunity to propose water projects?
"SB 4, as filed, specifically provides for at least 10 percent of the $2 billion to be used in rural Texas. I wanted to ensure that the entire bulk of the money did not immediately flow to our large population centers. It is important that rural Texas have an opportunity to apply and receive funding for their projects currently in the State Water Plan."
• What role can Texas farmers and ranchers play in addressing our state's water needs?
"Texas farmers and ranchers are an important part of our state's economy. They understand what it means to protect and preserve the land. I would look to them to work hard to apply those same values to protect and preserve our water resources."