Voters take step to address Texas water concerns

11/12/2013 04:11:00 PM
Jim Offner

Texas’ water issues just got easier to deal with, thanks to the state’s voters.

On Nov. 5, voters approved Proposition 6, which allows the transfer of money from a rainy day fund that is fed by oil and gas production taxes into a revolving fund designed to reduce borrowing costs for municipalities to build water projects.

The measure, one of nine amendments to the state constitution that were on the ballot, won by a margin of 51.5% to 48.5%.

Prop 6 was among the most discussed ballot issues, gaining support from business and environmental coalitions, including members of the citrus industry.

State officials said a $2 billion capitalization could be leveraged into $30 billion over 50 years.

Supporters said the water-supply projects would help Texas avoid serious shortages because the state is expected to double its population over that 50-year period.

Jeffrey Arnold, salesman for the Edinburg, Texas-based Edinburg Citrus Association, said Prop 6 counted himself among the supporters.

“As Texas grows, so does its need for water, and Proposition 6 will be beneficial to every community, including the agricultural community,” he said.

Arnold said it helps that the measure creates no new taxes or debt.

“It should boost the economy here in Texas,” he said.

Bret Erickson, president of the Texas International Produce Association, Mission, said something dramatic was needed to change the state’s ongoing struggles with water.

He noted Proposition 6’s varied support base was crucial.

“There’s a Texas water plan and this plan includes stakeholders from different industries,” he said.

Proposition 6 was important to the Texas citrus industry’s long-term prospects, Erickson said.

“With long-term goals and changes, how can we make the most of what we have?” he said.

The state already has only sporadic cooperation from Mexico, which is supposed to make regular water debt payments stemming from a 1944 treaty wherein the U.S. provides water to Mexico and Mexico provides water from its side of the Rio Grande for use in Texas.

“A small piece of the solution is Mexico making payments on their water debts, but more important is upgrading our water delivery systems and improving our conservation methods is really important,” Erickson said.

The water issue had become more acute in recent years, as Texas and northern Mexico dealt with drought conditions, Erickson said.

“They have fallen behind in what they’re supposed to be repaying, but the guys in Mexico right on the other side of the river are struggling too with a drought,” Erickson said.

Unfortunately for Texas, two-thirds of the region’s watershed is in Mexico, said Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual, Mission.

“The recent heavy rains we’ve had have helped reduce the deficit we had by some 50,000 acres, which was a plus, but the water issues continue,” Prewett said.

That’s why Prop 6 was crucial to the region’s agricultural viability, he said.

“That’s going to be very important,” he said before voters threw their support behind the issue.

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