Financing Your City’s Water Projects: Participate in Regional and State Planning
Last November, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 6. Prop 6 provides funding for water projects to be administered by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). State and local leaders are currently working to prioritize projects that will be eligible for funding.
Prop 6 was just one component of a larger 2013 legislative package designed to provide water project funding. Another part of that package, House Bill 4, created the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT). The passage of Prop 6 funded the SWIFT with $2 billion from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” for the sole purpose of providing low-cost financial assistance for projects in the state water plan. SWIFT funding can be used only to support projects that are expressly identified in the plan.
The state water plan is the culmination of a regional planning process that the Texas Legislature established in 1997. Every five years, 16 planning groups – one for each regional water planning area – assess the projected population, water demands, and water supplies in their area for the next 50 years. Each planning group holds public hearings and meetings to develop its regional water plan, which lists the water supply projects needed to meet their water shortages.
Once a regional water planning group adopts its regional water plan, the plan is then sent to the TWDB for approval. The TWDB ultimately compiles the information to make the state water plan. The most recent iteration is the 2012 State Water Plan, which contains more than 3,000 strategies to meet water needs during a drought.
Regional water planning groups have achieved the first major milestone for implementing Proposition 6. Representatives from each of the regional groups have developed uniform standards to prioritize water projects in the regional water plans. These standards consider decade-of-need, feasibility, viability, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness of projects. TWDB approved the standards at its December 5, 2013 Board meeting.
The regional water planning groups must now use those standards to develop and submit to the TWDB a list of projects within each regional water plan in priority order by September 1, 2014. TWDB is now beginning its public process of drafting project prioritization criteria for the state level. The process, which will be completed in early 2015, will provide numerous opportunities for public comment and dialogue on the state prioritization criteria in the coming months.
The League recognizes funding water projects is an important function of Texas cities, and lobbied in support of the legislation providing additional funding. League staff will continue to monitor the process and provide information to cities. However, because of the potential conflicts between regions in the prioritization process and disbursement of SWIFT funds, the League cannot participate in project prioritization at the regional level or at TWDB.
City officials are encouraged to get involved in their regional water planning group and participate in the TWDB process. The planning group meeting schedule and map of the regions is available on the TWDB website at http://www.twdb.texas.gov/waterplanning/index.asp.
For more information on the SWIFT fund and prioritization project process, please visit the SWIFT website at http://www.twdb.texas.gov/swift/index.asp.