CHANGES EXPECTED FOR WATER UTILITIES AND GROUNDWATER PERMITEES
During this session, the issue of water has come up in many different forms. Bills have been filed that deal with water conservation measures, new requirements for water and sewer utilities, clarification of groundwater rights, and other water-related issues. The bills can have a profound effect on how a city provides some of its most basic services – water and wastewater – and city officials should be aware of the bills and what they could do if passed. (Most of the bills would pit city versus city, which means that the League cannot take a position on them.)
Several bills currently under consideration by the legislature would require water and sewer utilities to take certain actions – report new information to a state agency, perform an audit, and create an emergency plan – but would not provide any additional funding to assist a city with compliance. For example, S.B. 181 (Shapiro) would require the Texas Water Development Board and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to develop a uniform methodology for calculating municipal water use and conservation, as well as guidance for water utilities for developing per-capita based calculations. The guidance and calculation developed by the agencies would then be required as part of the water conservation plan submitted by an applicant for a new water rights permit, and any retail public water and/or sewer utility with 3,300 connections or more. H.B. 1319 (Laubenberg) contains very similar requirements and has been voted out of the House Committee on Natural Resources. S.B. 181 is moving even more quickly and has already passed the Senate.
S.B. 389 (Williams) and H.B. 2619 (Callegari) are bills that would require a city-owned water and sewer utility to make plans and provisions – and, in the case of H.B. 2619, send infrastructure information to utilities and several governmental entities – in order to prepare for natural disasters and other emergencies. S.B. 389 applies only to Harris County and certain surrounding counties, so cities in those areas should pay particular attention. H.B. 2619 is applicable statewide, and the House Committee on Natural Resources heard testimony on the bill earlier this week.
H.B. 3090 (Creighton) is another bill with additional requirements for city utilities. It would require a city water utility that provides drinking water and is seeking financial assistance from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to perform and file with the TWDB a water audit computing the utility’s system water loss during the preceding year. A city utility that is not seeking assistance would still be required to file an audit with the TWDB once every five years. While the bill has not yet been heard in the House Natural Resources Committee, it will be of particular interest to the many city utilities that anticipate seeking financial assistance from the TWDB in the future.
Groundwater has also been a very important issue during this legislative session, with several bills related to desired future conditions, groundwater conservation districts, and landowners’ rights to groundwater. H.B. 1730 (Ritter) and H.B. 1731 (Ritter), H.B. 2398 (Miller), and S.B. 332 (Fraser) would all recognize or clarify a landowner’s right to pump and use groundwater under his property, and how that right interacts with groundwater districts and their authority to regulate groundwater use. All of the House bills were referred to the House Natural Resources committee, but none have been heard. After much floor discussion, S.B. 332 passed the Senate on March 30.
H.B. 1547 (Larson), H.B. 1824 (Price), H.B. 2166 (Price), H.B. 3530 (Ritter), S.B. 660 (Hinojosa), S.B. 907 (Seliger), S.B. 737 (Hegar), and S.B. 1306 (Hegar) would make changes to the processes for determining desired future conditions and managed available groundwater in a groundwater conservation district or would modify the general operation of groundwater conservation districts. In addition, S.B. 1606 (Seliger) would require all well owners or operators, including those exempt from permitting under law, to report groundwater withdrawals to the TWDB and the groundwater conservation district in the area. Some of these bills are still in committee; some have been voted out of committee and are waiting to be heard on the House or Senate floor. If your city is interested in groundwater district issues, these will be important bills to track. There will most likely be significant changes to the regulation of groundwater use during this legislative session, and your city’s input is invaluable in helping your elected representatives make the best decisions for your area.
If you have questions about any of the above, please contact Lauren Crawford at (512) 231-7400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.