TWDB approves 2017 Draft State Water Plan; costs run to $62B
2017 Draft State Water Plan projects state’s water needs, supply from 2020 through 2070
Last week, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved the 2017 Draft State Water Plan, which lays out how the state’s water planners intend to prepare Texas to meet its water needs through 2070. It is now open for public review and comment through April 25, and there will be a public hearing discussing the plan April 18.
The plan includes 5,500 water management strategies and 2,400 recommended water management strategy projects. The total costs, if all of the strategies and projects were implemented, would be $62.6 billion. The state’s 16 regional planning districts contributed their own long-range plans last year, and those serve as the basis for both the State Water Plan and for state water policy in general.
The 2017 Draft State Water Plan was the first drawn up after the legislature created and the voters approved the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT), which has funded $1.9 billion worth of projects since 2015. The legislature created the SWIFT funding scheme on the heels of three occurrences: the 2011 legislative session and its projected budgetary shortfall caused deep cuts; the 2011 drought, which is the worst single-year drought on record; and the writing of the 2012 State Water Plan.
Matt Nelson, the TWDB’s director of Water Use, Projections and Planning, said that the presence of SWIFT funding didn’t change the planning process in general. But, the fact that the legislature placed an emphasis on conservation in drawing up priorities for SWIFT candidates, “has resulted in an increase in the inclusion of recommended conservation strategies with capital costs in the recent regional and state water plan.”
In fact, Nelson said that “Conservation is by far the most frequently recommended strategy in this state water plan, with more than half of all water user groups recommending conservation strategies.”
The creation of SWIFT was a game-changer for the state water authorities. Historically, water projects have been financed through state funding, municipal bonds and federal appropriations. Prior to SWIFT, state funding did not often meet what was needed, and federal money has always been hard to come by. The state’s backing through SWIFT enables local authorities to get much better deals in terms of interest rates on their project financing.
SWIFT was created with the intention of funding just more than $27 billion worth of projects. That figure happens to match the amount that regional planners had requested in financial assistance from the TWDB. “Sponsors of recommended water plan projects in the 2017 plan indicated that they would need only part of the total costs in state financial assistance from the TWDB funding programs,” said Nelson. “In the 2017 plan, it is $36.5 billion. To finance their projects, sponsors rely on various funding streams, ranging from water utility rates, private debt, public debt and state financial assistance.”
This year’s will be the state’s 10th water plan, having developed one every five years since 1961. Because it projects the state’s water needs and supplies over such a long period of time, the planners do not consider current conditions too acutely, whether that means the current state of the economy or ongoing climate trends.
“Recent or ongoing weather patterns, unless they set historical records, do not generally influence the underlying basis of the water plans,” he said. Similarly, “Current economic conditions such as a recession do not directly influence the overall planning process or recommendations.”
According to its authors, the 2017 plan is the most detailed, in-depth State Water Plan yet created. “While previous state water plans have been limited by the amount of information that would fit in a single published document,” they write, “this state water plan provides information through both the actual state water plan publication and an interactive state water plan website.” The planners were able to include much more data — and in many more formats — than ever before.
Included, as well, are three recommendations for legislative action. The first is to designate five stream or river segments as having “unique ecological value,” meaning governmental agencies would not be able to allocate funds to construct a reservoir on that body of water. The second recommendation would designate 11 sites as “having unique value for the construction of reservoirs.” That includes seven sites that were so designated in 2007 and four that have never been addressed by the legislature. Designation wouldn’t guarantee that a reservoir would be funded, much less built, on these sites. It would, though, prevent state or local agencies from allowing development on the sites that would prevent the construction of a reservoir. The third recommendation aligns dates for submission of statements of “Desired Future Conditions” (forecasts of water availability) with the Regional Water Plans.