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2014-05-08

Shaw's work with small towns ensues state funds distribution

By Ken Esten Cooke

Standard-Radio Post-Ken Esten Cooke
Doug Shaw, new rural ombudsman for the Texas Water Development Board, was in Fredericksburg recently to answer questions about his new position.

By Ken Esten Cooke
Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post
Special to the Courier

With about 1,000 people a day moving to Texas, water will remain the state's most challenging issue in the coming decades.
And many state law-makers want to make sure the Lone Star State's rural areas have a seat at the table, as Texas decides what to do with the $2 billion Texas State Water Implementation Fund (SWIFT) created last November when voters approved a transfer from the state's rainy day fund.
"I wanted to make sure Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston didn't dominate the fund," said Senator Troy Fraser, who ushered through much of the water legislation during the last session. "I want us [the state] to go to Bandera, and ask what does Bandera need in the way of water, and how we can assist you?"
Fraser and members of the Texas Water Development Board were at the Hill Country University Center in Fredericksburg on Wednesday, April 23, to meet with regional and municipal water planners.
The TWDB was restructured, adding three board positions, and Fraser said (he wanted the) executive director to be more proactive with small towns who may not have water experts on staff.
"We built in that 10 percent of the funds would be dedicated to rural Texas, and another 20 percent dedicated for conservation of water re-use," Fraser said of the SWIFT fund. "And TWDB also created a 'rural ombudsman position'."
Doug Shaw, a native of Godley, Texas (pop. 997), was named to the new rural ombudsman position. He said he has traveled more than 7,000 miles since early December meeting with rural water conservation boards and city councils.
"We heard over and over that rural Texas doesn't have a voice in Austin," he said. "When I interviewed for this position, I told the committee that rural Texas is Texas."
Shaw's primary role will be outreach, and making sure small towns know what is available to them.
"The new TWDB board wanted to make sure that we got out and not just sit in our office in Austin," Shaw said. "So I am here to make sure that local concerns reach the board and to serve as a point of contact. If I can't answer a question, I know who can."
Shaw also said he and TWDB to engage with rural entities in the planning process for their water needs.
"You know, Texas had six water plans between 1981 and 1997, and for the most part, they sat on a shelf," he said. He added that in 1997, regional planning entities were created. Every five years, they submit plans and the following year, a state plan follows."
From there, project prioritization will take place by the TWDB in awarding funds.
Prioritization will be based on time or what decade the project will be needed, feasibility, viability, sustainability and cost effectiveness. Also in play will be the population served, diversity (which includes rural) and if the projects meet the needs of a high percentage of the water users' needs.
SWIFT fund
But the new water fund won't be a "gimme" fund for small tax-base entities that need to fund expensive pro-jects.
"Under SWIFT, there are no grants and no loan forgiveness," said Carlos Rubinstein, chairman of the TWDB. "We have programs for that, such as the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund."
Rubinstein also said the Texas Water Development Fund, the Rural Water Assistance Fund and the Agricultural Water Conservation Grant and Loan program were also available to rural entities seeking to fund projects.
Rubinstein also reiterated that one third of "new water" for the state will come from conservation and re-use. "That's the cheapest water we have," he said. "We need to focus on using what we have in a better way."
Rubinstein also mentioned that desalination of brackish and salt water are possibilities, along with underground reservoirs.
Between 2010 and 2060, the population of Texas is expected to increase by 82 percent," Fraser said. "We need to act now to find new sources of water and new ways to increase conservation."
Regional, local issues
Those in attendance also heard briefly from representatives of the Region J and Region K water plan-ners.
Gillespie County is in Region K, which stretches from Mills County to Matagorda County, and includes mostly rural areas, except for Travis County.
Region K consultant Jaime Burke said Gillespie's population is expected to grow to more than 36,000 by the year 2070.
Voy Althaus, who has served on the Hill Country Underground Water Conservation District for 27 years, said the city should begin looking for another well site as its population expands.
"The city needs another well field, but there's not an apparent place that's as good as what they have cu-rently," Althaus said.
The geologist also said the city should study whether it would be feasible to better clean water that it puts back into the system (effluent) and water that is released into Baron's Creek.