Jul 24th 2015 | Posted in Infrastructure, Water by Texas Government Insider

TWDB logo

TWDB logo

Financial assistance of $705,000 to more than $953 million marked what is being heralded as a highly successful first round of water project funding approvals from the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT). Some $3.9 billion in funding from SWIFT, created by the Texas Legislature and funded by a voter-approved referendum allowing for the transfer of seed money from the state’s rainy day fund, was approved by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) Thursday.

There were plenty of handshakes and back slaps to go around – for the TWDB, the agency’s employees and commissioners, water-related organizations, government entities, community leaders and other stakeholders.

“I’m confident we’re off to an amazing start,” said Kathleen Jackson (left), one of the three TWDB board members, after 21 project applications were approved for funding. She added that “everything is in place for a successful future.”

TWDB Chair Bech Bruun (right) agreed. “Being able to finance projects through SWIFT is a major step toward achieving the goal of securing Texas’ long-term water supplies,” he said. “The projects selected to receive SWIFT financing will help ensure that Texans have sustainable and reliable water sources for decades to come.”

Although the 21 project applications that were approved totaled $3.9 billion, $1 billion of that funding will be distributed in the first year with the remaining $2.9 billion over the next decade.

The projects are all listed in the State Water Plan and included transmission pipelines, canal linings, capacity expansions, seawater desalination, leak detection systems, water meter replacements and reservoirs. (Strategic Partnerships, Inc. has compiled detailed information on each project approved by the TWDB.)

One of those reservoir projects was Lake Ralph Hall, which represents the first reservoir permitted by the state since 1985, according to TWDB Board Member Carlos Rubinstein (bottom). Rubinstein said that after looking back over everything that has occurred to get the process to this point, “I look back at it with great pride.”

The $2 billion in rainy day funds, a one-time appropriation to SWIFT, will be leveraged with revenue bonds over the next 50 years. The result will be the financing of about $27 billion in water supply projects.

The process began last November when rules were adopted, policy issues were discussed and 14 financial assistance workshops were held statewide in a two-month timeframe, said Amanda Lavin of the TWDB Executive Administrator’s staff. “Our outreach efforts proved extremely successful,” she said.

When requests for funding were solicited, financial assistance requests totaled $5.5 billion. The requests were certified as eligible and then prioritized. There were a large number of requests that were multi-year requests, said Lavin. It was determined that there was sufficient funding for current demand, so 100 percent of SWIFT applicants were invited to submit expanded applications. Those applications were due by a June 5 deadline.

Lavin said 21 projects were approved, from metro to rural projects, from seawater desalination to water conservation.

The next milestone for the program will be the actual issuance and delivery of the revenue bonds. The applicants will then proceed to loan closings by December. Once the funding is secured, the applicants can begin implementation of their projects.

Some of the projects approved for SWIFT Round 1 awards include:

  • $41.63 million to the Central Harris County Regional Water Authority for a water supply project;
  • $555.845 million to the North Fort Bend Water Authority for a water supply project;
  • $50 million to the El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board for a land acquisition project;
  • $953.405 million to the North Harris County Regional Water Authority for a water supply project; and
  • $28.3 million to the Brazosport Water Authority for a brackish groundwater project.

Bruun noted that since 1957, the Texas Water Development Board has provided $15 billion in financial assistance for water-related projects. “During the last two hours, we’ve burned through another $4 billion,” he said as the meeting closed. “We look forward to round two.”