Our Water Matters

The American Society of Civil Engineers has given our state’s drinking water infrastructure a C-, noting that Texas experiences a high number of boil water notices. The current situation in Shafter and Terlingua is a case in point.

A recent survey of Texas’ water infrastructure needs by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that our “water infrastructure is aging and in need of repair to withstand the challenges of the 21st century.” It identified a $61 billion backlog in water infrastructure upgrades and expansion projects in Texas to meet those challenges over the next 20 years. In its summary of survey findings, the EPA also stated that “while most water infrastructure is hidden from sight, it is foundational to our daily lives.”

Earlier this year, the 88th Texas Legislature took $1 billion from the state’s current budget surplus of over $50 billion to create the Texas Water Fund. The fund, which will be used to finance local water infrastructure projects, is subject to approval of Proposition 6 by the voters in the upcoming election on November 7. While this funding represents a proverbial drop in the bucket when viewed against the enormous need, it is a necessary move that cannot be made without voter support.

If approved by the voters, this fund will be used by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to finance low-interest loans to communities for water and wastewater projects. According to the Texas Water Foundation, “These loans are one of the most effective and broadly used tools [that] small and low-income utilities have for enabling projects” like developing new supplies, repairing and replacing existing infrastructure, addressing water loss, and meeting the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. In the case of rural regions like Presidio County, these loans constitute the biggest bang for the buck because they can be combined with grant funding to leverage our very limited local resources so that we can actually afford to pursue water and wastewater projects. And virtually every town and city in the greater Big Bend region will have no choice but to update and replace their infrastructure in the coming years as population pressure and the march of time continue to take their toll on existing systems.

“Texas’ rural water systems are in deep disrepair,” according to Vanessa Puig-Williams, director of the Texas Water Program at Environmental Defense Fund. “The Texas Water Fund is a much-needed intervention as it specifically prioritizes funding for rural communities. The fund is an important step in what needs to be a broad, creative, urgent effort to empower local communities in securing a sustainable water future.”

The 88th Texas Legislature formed the first-ever Texas Water Caucus. This bipartisan body that included dozens of legislators is working to focus more attention on the grave condition of our existing water systems and the need to expand our infrastructure to accommodate explosive growth statewide. Some have argued that even more money should have been taken from the budget surplus and allocated to the new water fund. Meanwhile, the Legislature has not increased funding to address long-term water infrastructure in over a decade. Within this context, we need to ensure that this initiative passes by a large margin so that our legislators understand how important water is to us. Overwhelming passage of Proposition 6 will send a clear message to our leaders that we firmly back increased investment in our water security.

Voting in favor of Proposition 6 is a concrete action that every voter can take to advance the many solutions that will be necessary to provide abundant drinking water and ensure safe wastewater disposal for future generations. Support for Proposition 6 will also elevate the work of the Texas Water Caucus and encourage future Legislatures to allocate even more money to water security. Proposition 6 involves no new taxes or regulation. Proposition 6 gives our region and our state a fighting chance to address the daunting challenges we can already see coming.

Early voting continues from today through Friday, November 3, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Election Day is Tuesday, November 7, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Cast your vote at the PAC at 1400 E. O’Reilly Street in Presidio or at the Presidio County Courthouse at 300 N. Highland in Marfa.

Trey Gerfers is a San Antonio native and serves as general manager of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District. He is also chairman of the Presidio County Water Infrastructure Steering Committee and president of the Marfa Parks and Recreation Board. Trey has lived in Marfa since 2013.

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