Perry: Voters must make state water bank a reality


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT GUEST

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Posted on October 9, 2013 at 6:21 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 9 at 6:40 PM

AUSTIN -- Against the backdrop of a shrinking Lake Travis, dotted with new islands erupting from devastating drought, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) joined Central Texas lawmakers to ask voters to finish the job the 83rd Texas Legislature began this spring.

"Waiting on the voters to give approval to this money is the next big step," Perry said in the latest of several stops around the state to promote Prop. 6 on the November 5 ballot.

The drought has closed businesses along once lucrative lakefronts and burdened the state's agriculture business to near the breaking point.

"Our largest pecan producer lost over 12,000 trees due to the drought," said rancher and Goldthwaite City Manager Bob Lindsey. "It takes eight to ten years for a new tree to be back into full production."

Lindsey says new sources of water are out there, but the challenge for many local and regional governing bodies is paying for them.

"As we mine the cheap water sources we have to look to more expensive sources of water, so that next increment of water that we add is going to cost more than what we added in the beginning," said Lindsey. "What we have in Texas is not necessarily a water shortage. What we have is a distribution shortage, a distribution problem, a water quality problem, and a water funding problem."

That's where Prop. 6 comes in. The measure will ask voters' permission to kickstart a new state water bank with $2 billion in seed money through a one-time transfer from the state's rainy day fund, which a new study conducted by Texas Taxpayers and Research Association suggests could reach $20 billion by 2020.

"It's not money to make it rain. It is money that is available, through no new taxes, to fund different types of water projects," said state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), who explains that interest earned through providing needed financing will help the fund grow over time.

The legislation was passed in May with overwhelming bipartisan approval, with just 16 House members voting in opposition.

"What I'm afraid of is if we take that role on as an investment bank, we'll make the decisions for those municipalities and regional water supplies based upon politics," state Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) told KVUE at the time. Simpson's office says the Longview Republican still has reservations over what he sees as the state playing banker.

Supporters argue that's not the case, pointing to accompanying changes made to restructure the state Water Development Board, replacing the part-time leadership with three full-time board members.

Perry says the $2 billion investment could turn into $30 billion down the road. Wednesday day he urged action, noting that other states facing difficult drought conditions and expanding populations are watching Texas' lead.

"We wait on the voters," said Perry. "They must approve Proposition Six if we're to make these plans become a reality."