Engineers and engineering firms and the potential for conflicts of interest in the Texas regional water planning process

Among the potential impediments to achieving the full intent of the Texas Senate Bill 1 regional water planning process are conflicts of interest held by the planning consultants, primarily large engineering firms. The regional water planning process was designed as a much-publicized “bottom up” approach to serve diverse interest groups representing the citizenry of the region at large.

In order for the regional water planning groups to bring their own diverse interests to bear and design a comprehensive water plan addressing the array of requirements, a premium value is attached to the provision of objective, unbiased information to the group by their consultant.

There appear to be two principal types of conflicts of interest which can impede the delivery of such unbiased information. I label these a) the “big ticket payoff” conflict of interest, and b) the “favored client” conflict of interest. Both of these, combined with the perhaps unavoidable predisposition of engineers towards “structural solutions,” have generally led to regional water plans with a heavy emphasis on building new infrastructure, little emphasis on progressive management of existing supplies, including water efficiency measures, and incomplete attention to environmental and cost issues.

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