|EDINBURG, October 14 - State Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra is urging Rio Grande Valley citizens to attend a town hall meeting on state water policy in Edinburg on Tuesday and then vote “yes” in November to Proposition 6.
The town hall meeting, which Guerra is hosting, includes presentations from State Water Plan by Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) Chairman and former Rio Grande Water Master Carlos Rubinstein and Jon Schnautz, deputy general counsel and senior policy advisor on water issues to the Speaker of the House Joe Straus. It is being held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance and starts at 10 a.m. Area chambers of commerce have been invited.
Proposition 6, which is on the Nov. 5 ballot, is a constitutional amendment that establishes the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT). The plan, if voters approve, is to make a one-time dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund for $2 billion and invest it for future water projects approved by TWDB. Regional water authorities will be able to apply for low-interest loans from TWDB. In 50 years, it is hoped, SWIFT could be worth $27 billion.
“The TWDB panel will serve to be a great opportunity for the public to hear from us, and make an informed and educated decision when it comes to voting in November,” said Guerra, D-McAllen. “This critical constitutional amendment will have a profound effect on the long-term water supply for Texans and our families.”
Guerra pointed out that with Texas’ population expected to double over the next 40 years and with current groundwater supplies declining, certain areas of the state will experience significant shortages in the absence of developing new supplies. He said the State Water Plan encompasses over 4,500 projects with a range of strategies including reuse, conservation, new reservoirs, the development of new groundwater supplies, desalination, and more. “Without new supplies, another major drought could be devastating to Texas’ economy and jobs,” Guerra told the Guardian.
In an interview with KMBH 88 FM’s Closer to Home, Guerra said the state’s current water plan, though worthwhile, has limited funding available. He said Speaker Straus approached legislators at the state of this year’s session to tell them this had to change, that a funding mechanism had to be found in order to provide a conservative solution to meet the state’s growing water needs – without incurring debt in the process.
“We are going to be focusing on new water supply projects, on water conservation, and reusing existing supplies. It is very important we fund these projects. We need effective conservation programs,” Guerra told KMBH. “The Texas Water Development Board is the agency in charge of overseeing the state water plan and it will evaluate and prioritize the projects submitted by the local and regional entities. We need to prepare for the future. So, we are trying to educate the public throughout Texas. I want to help get the word out to the folks in the Upper Valley.”
State Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, held a similar town hall meeting at Rancho Viejo, with Rubinstein, again, the keynote speaker. Lucio said passage of Proposition 6 is not the final solution for Texas’ water supplies but it is an important first step.
“Proposition 6 will allow for low-interest loans, basically half of that you can find in the private sector. It will give regional water authorities an avenue to secure funding for these projects. It is not a grant program. This is a low-interest loan program. This is a sustainable funding stream for the future,” Lucio told the Guardian.
“Previously, there has not been a lot of money behind the State Water Plan. There has been some loan forgiveness and some grants but now being part of the Plan means so much more. A regional approach to the Plan will score higher than individual projects presented to the Texas Water Development Board. The projects that score highest will be made a state priority.”
Lucio gave his reason why voters in South Texas should vote in high numbers for Proposition 6.
“In the past, we have gone up to Austin to say how distressed we are in terms of getting water from the river to the end user, to Raymondville or to Rio Hondo or any other city and we have pled our case that there should be an investment in South Texas,” said Lucio, D-Harlingen. “Well, now is an opportunity to express ourselves in terms of our participation in the electoral process. Having a strong showing will obviously indicate to the Texas government that we going to participate and care deeply about this issue.”