Our Water Matters

Regional water planning

In earlier issues of “Our Water Matters,” we looked at how lawmakers have passed legislation over the years to meet the water needs of Texas. In 1997, the Legislature established a water planning process at the regional level. The Texas Water Development Board, which was created in response to the devastating drought of the 1950s to develop water supplies and create plans to meet future water needs in the state, administers this regional planning process in coordination with 16 regional water planning groups.

The Far West Texas Regional Water Planning Group, also known as Region E, includes Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties, as well as Culberson, Hudspeth, El Paso and Terrell counties. The aquifers managed within Region E include the Bone Spring-Victorio Peak (Hudspeth), Capitan Reef Complex (Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis), Edwards-Trinity-Plateau (Brewster, Culberson, Jeff Davis), Hueco-Mesilla Bolson (El Paso, Hudspeth), Igneous (Brewster, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio), Marathon (Brewster), Pecos Valley (Jeff Davis, Terrell), Rustler (Brewster, Culberson, Jeff Davis), Trinity (Terrell), and West Texas Bolsons (Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Presidio).

Each regional planning group comprises 20 members that represent different interests, such as agriculture, business, counties, environment, groundwater management areas, industry, municipalities, power generation, the public, river authorities, water districts and water utilities. The establishment of each regional planning group involved the passage of bylaws and the designation of a political subdivision to administer the planning process and manage any contracts with consultants to develop the regional water plan. The Rio Grande Council of Governments, a voluntary association of local governments, administers the planning process for the Far West Texas Regional Water Planning Group.

According to Annette Gutierrez, executive director of the Rio Grande Council of Governments, some of the greatest benefits of regional water planning include “trust-building and partnerships.” Gutierrez, who has been with the organization since 1999, stated that things have greatly evolved over the years. She described some of the earliest meetings she attended as “really heated” due to the “perceived struggle between urban and rural.” But over the years, she said, “Folks have established a greater level of trust.” The relationships built within the process have helped to alleviate some of the concern about a power grab by the more powerful interests at the expense of smaller communities. By combining resources, the planning process has built capacity and created partnerships among the many interests in the region.

The Far West Texas Regional Water Planning Group quantifies current and projected population and water demand over a 50-year planning horizon. It also evaluates current water supplies, identifies needs, evaluates water management strategies and prepares plans to meet the identified needs. All of this information is incorporated into the regional water plan along with drought response information, measures to protect the state’s water, agricultural and natural resources, recommendations for regulatory, administrative and legislative changes, descriptions of how water management strategies and projects will be financed and the implementation status of such projects. The plan also prioritizes the recommended projects within the regional water plan. Each five-year plan is adopted with the required level of public participation and then submitted to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for approval. The TWDB then uses the regional water plans to create the state water plan and assign resources for the various recommended projects. According to Gutierrez, the incorporation of these recommended projects into the state water plan is “indispensable” for obtaining financial assistance through state-level programs, such as the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT), which provides low-interest loans, extended repayment terms, deferral of loan repayments and incremental repurchase terms.

For Gutierrez, the biggest challenge ahead is “ensuring that there is enough water for all of our communities.” While the process could benefit from “greater public participation without a doubt,” she emphasized that folks need to understand that the Far West Texas Regional Water Planning Group “is working on your behalf to ensure safe drinking water now and in the future.”

“Our Water Matters” will return in 2022 with more useful information about water in Texas. Until then, may your holiday season be blessed with health, love and lots of precipitation.

Trey Gerfers is a San Antonio native and serves as board chairman of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District. He earns his living as a translator of technical documents from German to English for the German and Swiss pharmaceutical and medical-science industries. Gerfers has lived in Marfa since 2013. He can be reached at [email protected]