We’re wrapping up a busy year on the Texas Living Waters team: in 2023 we worked against the backdrop of a record breaking drought and heat wave that demonstrated just how crucial it is and will be to continue shoring up our state’s infrastructure and pushing for policies that prioritize resiliency, conservation, and nature-based solutions.
Major Investments in the State’s Water Infrastructure Ahead
This legislative session saw a roughly $2 billion promised for water infrastructure investments. From water supply and infrastructure to flood mitigation, the legislature took notice that Texas communities are struggling to keep up with the challenges that runaway growth, underinvestment and extreme climate brings. Our coalition worked to help pass Senate Bill 28, which invests $1 billion in water supply and infrastructure. We worked to shape the bill so that it prioritized smart water strategies such as conservation and water loss mitigation, as well as investments in smaller and rural communities.
This will all be crucial for Texans as we experience extreme climate scenarios. This November, we worked to educate voters on the bill, which needed their approval before it could become official. Proposition 6 passed with the overwhelming majority of the vote.
In the year ahead, we are committed to working with the Texas Water Development Board, which oversees the new funds, to ensure that smart, responsible, and equitable solutions are prioritized, and that all Texans will see the benefits of this new funding.
One Water Advancements in Texas
We’ve continued to advance One Water practices in Texas this year. Our partners at Hill Country Alliance convened the first One Water in the Texas Hill Country Conference, connecting local and regional decision makers and stakeholders with resources and expertise to develop strategies for communities on the ground. The Hill Country is one of the fastest growing regions of the country, and the stresses of development and population growth mean that water resources have to be managed carefully and responsibly for communities today and in the future.
The conference highlighted success stories, like the City of Boerne’s recent policy decisions that will protect and preserve local aquifers, and “purple pipe” systems that deliver treated wastewater for non-agricultural irrigation needs. The Blue Hole primary school in Wimberly provides another example: by using better building design, the school now uses half the amount of potable water of a neighboring school– and also cut its water bill in half.
We also continue our work in the City of Houston, with our partners at Bayou City Water Keeper, a local environmental justice and advocacy organization. The City is in the early stages of developing its first One Water plan. As the City undergoes a comprehensive stakeholder process that will inform and anchor the ultimate One Water plan, we aim to center the needs and voices of residents. Houston sits in the crosshairs of accelerating climate threats and demographic changes: sea-level rise, stronger hurricanes, longer droughts and floods are all stressing the city’s water supply, while demand increases. These challenges are also exacerbating existing inequalities due to decades of redlining, lax land use protections, and sidelineing the potential of nature-based solutions like wetland conservation. If Houston can embrace a holistic, equitable, and scientifically-sound One Water plan, the decision won’t just have long-lasting impacts for local residents: It can also serve as a model for other cities across Texas and even the United States facing similar pressures.
One of our goals is to create a One Water community of practice in Texas. At the One Water Summit held in Tucson this year, our team brought together a delegation of Texas advocates to learn from each other and share knowledge and resources. The One Water approach is vitally important to ensuring Texas communities are able to meet water challenges, deliver community benefits and ensure a healthy ecological environment. Building the One Water community in Texas will help bring us closer to our goal.
Public Comments, Advisory Committees, and Local Wins
A lot of the work we do at TLW happens behind the scenes. This year, we submitted public comments on a variety of upcoming plans that will define how water infrastructure funds are distributed in the next fiscal year.
This fall, the Texas Water Development Board released a draft “intended use plan” for administering State Revolving Funds. Each year, about $300 million is available through the SRF. Through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021, that number is steadily climbing. In 2023, the Water Development Board distributed roughly twice the funds it did in 2022 and 2021, and through the IIJA, funding is expected to increase annually for the remaining three years. Our team at Texas Living Waters provided comments and received support from 10 other environmental and community organizations advocating for policy changes that would expand the reach of the funds and help Texans most in need of these investments. To read more about our work on SRFs, and access a copy of the comments we submitted, read more on our blog.
We’re also working on submitting comments for the Flood Infrastructure Fund Draft Intended Use Plan before the year is over. The legislature appropriated $625 million to the Flood Infrastructure Fund and at least $375 million will be available during the coming biennium to help communities plan, design and build projects that will reduce flood risks.
Our partners at Sierra Club also had a huge win recently. In October, after a long process of advisory meetings, comments and more, the City of Houston passed updated building codes that will mandate climate-resilient development. The new codes will improve water and energy efficiency standards for new homes, apartments, businesses and public spaces. You can find more details on the significance of the updated codes on our blog as well. We’ve also continued to provide comments and analysis on similar state-wide efforts to improve building codes, and pushed for legislative action on this front.
New Report on Environmental Flows
In 2023, our partners at the Nature Conservancy released A Winning Trade: How Water Markets Can Benefit Texans and the Environment. It’s the first statewide analysis of historic water market trends. Environmental water transactions have increased at a rapid pace over the last decade, and it’s crucial that flows are protected to support healthy ecosystems even as they quench the demand of our growing population. The report also points to solutions that can work in Texas, and factors that may present future challenges for our state, and recommended actions that the state legislature can take to improve the benefits of water markets for both people and the environment. For example, increasing funding for the Texas Water Bank Trust (which allows water rights owners to donate those rights to the state for environmental protection), as well as providing groundwater conservation districts with adequate funding for modeling and studies could go a long way towards protecting our natural resources. Access the full report here.
TNC also secured a major win this year with the acquisition and protection of 515 acres in Central Texas, that will preserve the headwaters of Honey Creek outside of San Antonio, by Guadalupe River State Park.
A New Strategic Plan for 2024 and Onwards
This year, our team successfully outlined our priorities that will guide our work for the next several years. We developed a new strategic plan that you can download here, if you’re interested in learning more about each of these goals. As we look forward to a new year, here’s what we will strive to accomplish in 2024 and beyond:
- Elevating efficient water management practices
- Promoting Resilient and equitable infrastructure investment
- Advancing One Water Practices
- Supporting Healthy River Ecosystems
- Launching the TLW Water Policy and Advocacy Hub
- Strengthen Our Partnerships
And along with the new plan, you might have noticed that our website got a refresh, too! You can now more easily access our publications and blogs. We’ve also created a couple of dashboards that you can use to access data on water resources: from environmental flows protections to nature-based solution funding, as well as a water conservation scorecard.
As our year wraps up, we look forward to a couple of weeks of rest and recovery before we dive back into this important work. We also want to extend our sincere thanks to all of our supporters, advocates, and funders who make this work possible!