Every day, our Texas Legislature takes up several important pieces of legislation that intend to solve the problems of our constituents – these issues range from the most complex to the most basic.
One of the most prevalent problems in my district – and in many areas across the state – is the lack of access to some of the most basic resources, like potable water, electricity, and sewage. In such a prosperous state, we should not have Texans struggling every day for the ability to flush their toilet or drink clean water.
These areas are called colonias, which are essentially provisional communities in unincorporated, usually rural, areas. Colonias were built on land that was neither zoned nor intended for residential use. Most of these communities formed after dishonest land developers illegally sold parcels of land to low-income families, often with the promise that utilities would be installed at a later date.
After years of providing assistance to colonias, Governor Abbott unilaterally struck $860k from a $127 billion-dollar budget in 2017, and defunded the Colonia Initiatives Program, a program that placed government liaisons in some of the populous colonias to provide assessments of living conditions and infrastructure needs.
Over 40 percent of colonia residents live below the poverty line – the median income in colonias is approximately $29,000 per year, while the national median is $59,000 per year. My colleagues in the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) and I see and hear the stories from border communities. We’ve seen places where there is no bus access due to flooding of unpaved roads, so residents are unable to go into town for necessities; in 2017, the tuberculosis rate in Hidalgo County, home to around 900 colonias, was twice as high as the rest of the state; and nearly one in four families do not have clean drinking water.
However, it is important to note that this is not just a border issue; rural communities across Texas have neighborhoods lacking basic infrastructure. Thirty-four rural drinking water systems serving about 51,000 Texans have exceeded the federal drinking water limit for arsenic for at least a decade — many by a significant amount. According to state law, Texas permits public water utilities to use less urgent language than some other states in the notices they send to customers when their drinking water exceeds the arsenic standard.
While there are a few programs still in place to help colonias and other communities without basicinfrastructure, there needs to be more done at a larger scale. This is why I have filed HJR 11, which would authorize $200 million in bonds for water and wastewater projects in economically distressed areas throughout the state. Ensuring that this program is funded is critically necessary. In the year 2019, there are people in Texas who cannot flush their toilets or get clean water from their taps. Alongside my MALC colleagues, I am working to implement the necessary solutions to help hundreds of thousands of Texans lacking basic infrastructure and clean water. HJR 11 is a crucial step in ensuring that these communities are no longer treated as invisible.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column was provided by Proyecto Azteca, a community group that helps colonia residents in Hidalgo County.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column by state Rep. Mary González of Clint, Texas, is part of a series of op-eds by members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. The series will run during the 86th Legislative Session. Click here to read a guest column by state Rep. Rafael Anchia and here to read a guest column by state Rep. Celia Israel.