| AUSTIN, Texas, March 27
AUSTIN, Texas, March 27 The Texas House of
Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that
would create a fund to finance water infrastructure projects in
a state suffering from two years of widespread drought.
The House passed the bill along to the Senate on a vote of
146-2. The measure sets up a system for Texas to provide loans
for projects such as reservoirs, wells and conservation efforts.
The bill's author has a separate proposal to draw $2 billion
from the state's rainy-day fund to help finance the loans.
"As Mother Nature has reminded us in the last several years,
we cannot change the weather, but with sound science and
far-sighted planning, we can conserve and develop supply to meet
our future demands," Republican Representative Allan Ritter, the
bill's author and chairman of the House Natural Resources
Committee, told his colleagues.
Many Texans, including the governor and the Texas
Association of Business, support tapping the rainy day fund for
For the past two years, at least half of Texas has been in
drought, and 85 percent of the state is in drought now, said
state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. In 2011, the state
experienced its driest year on record, according to the National
Weather Service. Cities such as San Angelo in West Texas have
imposed emergency restrictions on water use.
The proposal is based on a 2012 state water plan that said
that "in serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not
have enough water to meet the needs of its people, its
businesses, and its agricultural enterprises." The plan
identified hundreds of needed projects that would cost $53
billion to design and construct in the next 50 years.
City water providers will need nearly $27 billion in
financial assistance from the state to implement the projects,
the plan said. The proposed fund would provide that amount over
time with the help of the one-time withdrawal from the rainy-day
fund along with $6 billion in general obligation bonds
authorized by Texas voters for water in 2011.
The state's rainy-day fund, generated mostly from oil and
gas production taxes, is projected to have $11.8 billion by the
end of the 2014-2015 budget cycle, state comptroller Susan Combs
said earlier this year.
Not all Texans believe the rainy-day fund is the place to go
for funding water projects.
Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Texas Public
Policy Foundation, which advocates for limited government, said
she does not think the money for water projects should come from
the rainy-day fund.
"We agree that Texas needs greater and more reliable
supplies of water to sustain its growth and industry," she said
in a statement. But she objected to the proposal earmarking
money for environmental education and conservation, "neither of
which is guaranteed to expand the available supply of water in
Earlier this year, Republican Governor Rick Perry called on
lawmakers to tap Texas' rainy-day fund for water and
transportation projects, saying that "none of us can deny the
need for these improvements."
"Whenever we're recruiting a business seeking to relocate or
expand, a chief concern of theirs is ensuring there are adequate
water, power and transportation systems for their needs," Perry
said in prepared remarks for his state of the state address.
On the House floor on Wednesday, the remarks by the pastor
of the day included this prayer: "Lord, give us rain."