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GRN Reports

Sierra Club warned today that a proposed law that would pave the wave for a Texas ‘water grid’ — a system of pipelines, reservoirs to pump water around the state — is a ‘California-style approach to water management’ that’s risky and costly.

Specifically, the environmental group is opposing House Bill 3298, which would fund a study to set up such a water system. HB 3298 passed the House on May 8 and could come up for a vote soon in the Senate.

OC Fisher, a lake struggling to survive Texas' drought. Spring 2015 (Photo: Jennifer Linde)

O.C. Fisher, a reservoir near San Angelo that went dry during  Texas’ extended drought. Shown here in spring 2015 (Photo: Jennifer Linde)

It would commit Texas to spend millions on a study of how to transfer water around the state, and also explore how that water would be controlled and who would own it. Water ownership has become a hot button issue in other Western states, such as Colorado, where ranching interests compete with urban needs for scarce water. Climate models predict continued periodic droughts for most Western US states, creating an urgency among civic and business leaders to develop water plans.

Sierra Club believes those water plans should focus strongly on water conservation and efficiency.

The bill, however, envisions a plan that would convey water around Texas. It directs the state Water Development Board the “evaluate alternative methods for ownership, construction, operation, maintenance, control, and financing of the water grid, including:

(A)  ownership by a state agency;

(B)  ownership by one or more special-purpose districts or authorities created under Section 59, Article XVI, Texas Constitution, for the purpose of providing wholesale water supply, improvement, management, or transportation, including river authorities and regional districts;

(C)  ownership by a public utility;

(D)  operation as a state-awarded concession;

(E)  operation as a public-private partnership;

(F)  development by private enterprises in a competitive market.”

Sierra Club’s concern is that this is legislative overreach and could lead Texas into spending millions on a “water gridzilla” that will trample on rural areas, agricultural producers and fish and wildlife habitat.

“Many Texans find satisfaction in being different from California. But HB 3298 would have Texas follow the deeply flawed California model of massive and costly pumping of water all over the state,” said Ken Kramer, Water Resources Chair of Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter. “The Texas House made some cosmetic changes to the bill on the floor, but – to rephrase an old saying – you can put lipstick on a gridzilla but it’s still a monster!”

An elaborate water grid could “devastate stressed Texas rivers and aquifers” and the rural areas that would likely be targeted as the state looked to transfer water to other areas, Kramer said.

Sierra Club fears that a “gridzilla” would “would undermine any prospect for building a consensus on statewide water policy that balances rural and urban interests and protects our natural heritage for future generations.”

“Schemes such as the one envisioned by HB 3298 are costly, energy intensive, environmentally destructive and politically combustible, pitting one area of the state against another. This never has been or nor will it ever be the right approach for Texas,” Kramer said.

Sierra believes water efficiency could supplant such a potentially costly project. Efficiency would minimize the financial, environmental, and social costs of pumping and transporting additional water supplies, the environmental group noted in a press release.

House Bill 3298 also argues for water efficiency, but maintains that efficiency “often requires” the the reallocation of water from one site to another. The bill argues that “improving the efficient use of water in the state may be promoted by improving the laws regarding water transfers and markets and by constructing and operating an integrated network of water conveyance infrastructure.”

The bill was authored by four Republican legislators,  Jim Keffer (Eastland), Kyle Kacal (College Station), James Frank (Wichita Falls) and Lyle Larson (San Antonio). If passed, would require the Texas Water Development Board to complete the study no later than Sept. 1 2016.