84° F Friday, July 28, 2017

Most people would not think of change in the Texas Legislature as fluid, but state Sen. Kirk Watson, District 14, said politicians’ mindsets about water are starting to shift as they realize the urgency of the issue.

Water supplies are dwindling as Central Texas’ population surges, but Watson said most legislators cringe when they are challenged to fund projects to secure Texans’ water for the future.

“We are not doing right in this state when it comes to water,” he told Central Texas Water Coalition members at a fund-raiser June 28 at Villa Antonia in Jonestown.

Watson said his love for Austin is tied into its natural resources.

“Water is something I care about because I believe it defines this place that we’ve all decided to call home,” Watson said. “It is part of who we are. It is part of the culture. It is part of the fabric that defines us.”

How people use the Highland Lakes, and especially Lake Travis, has transformed over the last 30 to 35 years as they have become recreational hotspots.

“This area has also changed in a way where those lakes now play a role that they didn’t play before,” he said. “Part of that that role is specifically and directly a part of our economy.

Despite the understanding of this role, regulatory and financial hurdles clog the flow of action. Texas lacks a conservation plan as well as an energy plan that links to its water plan.

Allocating funds is like pulling teeth, according to Watson.

“Our position is: If it costs money, we ain’t going to do it,” he confessed. “We are going to go into the next legislative session, and we are going to hear again and again and again that we can’t afford to prepare for the future.”

The consequences of the state failing to provide resources to ensure enough water is available for the state’s growing population would be disastrous.

“We have a pretty good state water plan, but it’s irresponsible to have a pretty good water plan where you know what you are going to need for the next 50 years; you know what it costs – and it does cost …,” he noted. “We also know what it costs to do nothing. It will cost our economy billions of dollars on an annual basis and over the long haul. It will cost our kids and our grandkids.”

He challenged coalition members to widen the scope of their campaign when urging the state rise up to the challenge.

“I’m asking you to also broaden your advocacy, so it’s not just about the lakes, but it’s about water in general for this state,” Watson urged.

Coalition members generally agreed with the state senator’s position on the water issue.

“He’s right on; the only way we are going to have more water supply is somebody’s got to pay for it and coming up with a way to pay for it,” said Kerry Spradley, Central Texas Water Coalition director. “It is a statewide issue.”

Dave Lindsay, coalition board member, pointed to the difficulties that arise when asking people from across the state who have differing motives to unify for a sole purpose.

“The people are worried about their district, and there’s not an overarching approach for how we address issues that cross boundaries,” Lindsay said. “That’s a barrier.”

He said the estimated $53 billion pricetag to implement the State Water Plan as presented could be lowered through adopting an integrated system and coming together as a team.

“It could work for everyone at a lower cost,” Lindsay said.

John Franklin, Burnet County representative on Lower Colorado River Authority’s board of directors, agreed that the time for discussion has arrived.

“I guess there’s a misnomer that we don’t try to have open communication, but I find it totally the opposite,” said Franklin who attended the fund-raiser. “I think Sen. Watson hit on some real critical issues, but I think there are other issues that still need to be looked at from the legislature standpoint.”

Coalition members were a major player in voicing their concerns to LCRA as it adopted a Water Management Plan that curtailed water releases downstream to rice farming interests.

The plan is under review by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but representatives from the rice farming industry who negotiated that plan have filed a letter to the commissioners alerting them to their opposition.

“We believe the process was flawed from the outset, and therefore so is the product,” wrote Ronald Gertson, chairman of the Colorado Water Issues Committee of the Texas Rice Producers Legislative Group, in a May letter to TCEQ. “We tried hard to work through the flawed process, but in the long run felt we had failed in this attempt.”

Coalition members said they felt disappointed that a stakeholder in those hard-fought negotiations has distanced itself from the agreement.

“It’s an out-and-out lie,” Spradley said. “They agreed to [the management plan] with literally hundreds of people in the room.”

Lindsay noted the concessions made by all parties and that all the issues that the rice farmers have brought up to TCEQ have been vetted.

“We gave up a lot of things, in that negotiation, on our positions to reach that agreement,” he said.

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  1. Jo Karr Tedder says:

    Excellent article that actually tells it like it is! We need to support Sen. Watson and all legislators who recognize the need for water to be a priority statewide. I have heard them referred to as ‘Water Warriors’!

  2. Don Midkiff says:

    Maybe we could change our mind on the agreement and request the farmers get NO MORE WATER, PERIOD. mopspop@hotmail.com

  3. Blue Glastron says:

    Increase the $6 per acre ft rate the rice farmers pay for Highland Lakes water (we pay $151) and you instantly create a massive new revenue stream. Why is that so complicated?

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