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2014-03-27

TWDB's new agricultural & rural Texas ombudsman

Special to the Courier

It's a good thing Doug Shaw loves Texas back roads. In just his first six weeks on the job, he traveled over 3,000 miles. The Texas Water Development Board's first Agricultural and Rural Texas Ombudsman began this new staff position on Dec. 1, 2013.
The product of a sixth generation Texas farm family, Shaw knows rural Texas, and he knows Texas water. He previously worked in the water planning division at TWDB from 2006 until he assumed his new role last year. His long experience in regional water planning enabled him to work with diverse interests and stakeholders, including rural and agricultural, and to understand the unique opportunities the TWDB's funding programs offer to communities across Texas. Shaw holds BS and MS degrees in agricultural economics from Tarleton State University.
So, what exactly is an ombudsman? And why does TWDB need it?
TWDB is in the midst of developing rules for administering the new State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT), the fund authorized by voters in November to finance projects in the state water plan. The legislation for SWIFT directs TWDB to undertake the use of not less than 10 percent of the funds on rural and agricultural projects.
"The ag ombudsman is helping us spread the word to rural communities about the SWIFT and the benefits it will offer to those communities," said TWDB Chairman Carlos Rubinstein. "His effort is a critical part of our SWIFT outreach and our outreach on many other programs."
"The board has made it clear it wants to expand outreach," Shaw said. "I enjoy traveling, talking to people and listening to their concerns. This is exactly what I've been wanting to do."
Shortly after beginning his new position, several things became clear to Shaw. Most people weren't familiar with the TWDB and didn't know whom to contact. Smaller entities that needed assistance for water projects didn't know how to navigate the financial process or felt they had to compete with larger entities for dollars.
Shaw knows the outreach process will take time and will be an ongoing effort. "Our board is meeting multiple times a month to shorten the time from application to getting money out the door, and further incent the timely and proactive development of water supplies. I'm a point of contact for small entities and stakeholders who are looking for help or information," he explained. "This new position ensures they have a voice and are being heard."
TWDB board member Bech Bruun reported, "Through Doug's outreach, more rural Texans will learn about and get involved in the regional water planning process, which is a key foundation to the state water plan."
Shaw added, "More folks getting involved means more local information, which can only lead to more comprehensive regional water plans."
To get funding from the SWIFT, projects must be part of the state water plan. And to be part of the state water plan, they must first appear in a regional water plan.
To date, Shaw's travels have taken him from AgriLife and Texas Rural Water Association events to meetings hosted by legislators, city managers, county judges and commissioners from rural areas.
So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I grew up in rural Texas. It's appealing to be able to spend time there, and I'm encouraged by opportunities to get the message out and help develop water for Texas," Shaw said.
Contact Shaw, TWDB agricultural and rural Texas ombudsman, at 512-463-1711 or at Doug.Shaw@twdb.texas.gov.