Mark Twain is reputed to have said something to the effect that everyone talks about the weather but no one ever does anything about it.
Texans are not exceptions. Controlling weather is beyond the abilities of even the most intelligent of the state’s scientists, engineers and climatologists. If anyone could have changed weather, Texas farmers, ranchers and not a few rural communities would have had an easier time the past three years and would have done something to reverse one of the worst droughts in the state’s history.
Alas, despite recent rainfall, more than 90 percent of Texas remains in drought status ranging from moderate to severe, according to a recent report from the Texas Water Development Board. That same report shows reservoir levels at a near all-time low.
Recent predictions indicate that the ongoing drought may be part of a decade(s) long cycle that could linger for several more years. If that analysis is accurate, farmers will continue to suffer; ranchers will continue to sell off herds; and rural communities will continue to run out of water. And no one will be any closer to figuring out how to control weather.
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But Texans will have an opportunity on Nov. 5 to do something about the water shortage. Proposition 6 is one of nine proposed Texas constitutional amendments on the ballot. The proposition states: “The constitutional amendment for the creation of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas to assist in the financing of priority projects in the state water plan to ensure the availability of adequate water resources.”
The proposition, if passed, will establish two funds to finance water plan projects—the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas (SWIRFT). Those funds would receive financial resources for water projects.
Also, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) would have authority to enter into bond enhancement agreements to make bonds more attractive to purchasers. TWDB could issue bonds and related credit agreements and to make loans for water projects in the state water plan.
The long range plan for Texas water shows that, considering the current water availability level and estimated population growth, the state will not have ample water to meet demand in as short a time as 30 to 40 years.
The Texas legislature has passed legislation allowing transfer of $2 billion from an economic stabilization fund –the Rainy Day Fund—if the amendment passes. Those funds would be used as leverage for low-interest loans with more favorable repayment options as well as other borrower advantages. At least 10 percent of funds would be dedicated to improving water resources for rural areas and 20 percent would be marked for conservation or reuse.
A brochure from the League of Women Voters in Texas offers a pro and con analysis of how the amendment would affect Texas.
The pros include the necessity of assuring the state has an adequate water supply to maintain current economic activity and provide for future growth. Attracting new companies to a state without adequate water will be, at best, difficult.
The funding mechanisms will provide a good base from which to generate more revenue and investment in water projects across the state. Also, tapping funds from the Rainy Day Fund allows transfer of funds to vehicles that offer potential for better investment opportunities.
Another advantage is to avoid the catastrophe of doing nothing. “Texas stands to lose millions of jobs and suffer reduced economic activity and decreased tax revenue,” the brochure reports, if the proposal does not pass.
Among the cons are assumptions that the two funds are not necessary and that funding is already available through TWDB. Also, some might argue that the Rainy Day Fund is not an appropriate source of financing since that coffer is reserved for emergencies such as natural disasters and that the legislature should “make separate appropriations from the general fund.”
A final negative is that “the state should not take on the financing of water plan projects. Financing should be provided by those benefiting from the projects.”
Texans will have the final say at the ballot box in what is often a low-turnout, off-year election.
A representative of the League of Women Voters in Texas said: “We don’t tell people how to vote. Just vote.”