TWDB's rural post a welcome change

Water development board’s ombudsman will help towns navigate processes

The State of Texas may never truly figure out how to have enough clean water for its exploding population, but it is not ignoring the problem.

Senator Troy Fraser and Carlos Rubinstein, Texas Water Development Board Chairman, were here last week to introduce the TWDB’s new “rural ombudsman” Doug Shaw. The new position will help rural Texans figure out complicated water needs and provide guidance on equally difficult-to-execute water and wastewater projects.

Small towns often lack the expertise and tax base to support water infrastructure projects, whether it is a new water tower, a wastewater plant or replacing leaky pipes installed in the 1930s. Navigating bureaucracies based in Austin can add to the frustration. So, the new ombudsman’s job is to go to these places and ask what is needed and how can the TWDB help.

We acknowledge that this is a huge step in the perceived helpfulness of a state agency. What a novel concept, beyond individual representatives, to go to the people and ask about their needs. We applaud the TWDB for making that a part of their mission.

Two billion dollars in funds transferred from the rainy day fund to the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) will boost water infrastructure projects. That, thankfully, was approved by voters last November. The funding will not be forgivable loans or grants, as there are other federally funded programs for that. Instead of acting strictly as a bank, the TWDB will gage merits and feasibility of different projects and make funding decisions in that way. Also, to help ensure the state’s metro areas do not usurp all the funding, provisions were made that “no less than” 10 percent of SWIFT funds had to be used in rural areas and another 20 percent had to be used for conservation and water re-use projects.
After the state ignored water challenges for years, this historic drought finally got lawmakers’ attention. Couple depleted water supplies with a projected doubling of the state’s population by 2060, and Texas finds itself in a challenging position.

We hope underground aquifer storage becomes commonplace, as it is less intrusive than new reservoirs and it suffers less evaporation. Desalination of brackish and salt water also will have to go from unique to commonplace to help the state meet fresh water needs. But everyone will have to pitch in to begin thinking about and using water in more efficient ways.

Texas’ water needs are huge, and it is a daunting task. Future needs will dwarf the $2 billion in funding approved by voters last November.

But we are glad to see the legislature and the TWDB has its eyes open. And we are glad rural Texas, even with diminishing representation in Austin, won’t be left high and dry.

MORE INFORMATION
• Learn more about the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) at www.twdb.texas.gov/swift

• Email comments to TWDB Rural Ombudsman Doug Shaw at
[email protected]

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