tx H2O

txH2O Fall 2016

85th Texas Legislature

Committees discuss water issues as they prepare for next session

By Kathy Wythe

Are you curious what water topics will be discussed, debated and voted on during the upcoming 85th Texas legislative session? While it is still early, the following information will help you stay current on legislative activities.

Facts about the upcoming session:

  • The 85th Texas legislative session begins Jan. 10, 2017, and ends May 29, 2017.
  • Bill pre-filing begins Nov. 14, 2016, and March 10, 2017, is the deadline for filing bills and joint resolutions other than local bills, emergency appropriations and bills that have been declared an emergency by the governor.

Interim charges related to water

In between sessions, interim charges are issued to both House and Senate legislative committees. The committees hold meetings during the interim, hearing testimony and receiving written testimony about the issues the committees are studying. Before the session begins, each committee will issue a report about its findings and recommendations. Those reports will be on the Legislative Reference Library of Texas website.

In November 2015, House of Representatives Speaker Joe Straus issued numerous charges to various House committees. A few of the water-related charges are listed by the committee. 

House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock

  • Evaluate policy challenges to the state’s agriculture and livestock industry, including long-term impacts of price declines in oil and natural gas; the availability of natural resources, including water, necessary to operate the industries; and the mitigation of and preparation for potential future hazards to the industries caused by natural disaster, drought or disease.
  • Determine the sources of water used by Texans in the production of food and fiber, and examine current water delivery methods and water conservation goals for agricultural use. Evaluate whether there are more efficient and effective water-usage management practices that could be employed in the agricultural industry, and determine the impact of crop insurance requirements on producers (Joint charge with the House Committee on Natural Resources).

House Committee on Natural Resources

  • Examine the regional and state water planning processes, with emphasis on the following:

ο  the integration of HB 4 (83R);

ο  the appropriate role of the state in ensuring that the process both supports regional goals and priorities and the water needs of the state as a whole, and how the state might encourage strategies to benefit multiple regions;

ο  the structure and operation of the regional planning groups;

ο  the interaction between the planning process and groundwater management;

ο  whether the “drought of record” remains the appropriate benchmark for planning; and

ο  any impediments to meeting the conservation, agricultural and rural project goals set by HB 4 (83R), and possible new approaches to help meet these goals.

  • Evaluate the status of water markets in Texas and the potential benefits and challenges of expanded markets for water. Include an evaluation of greater interconnections between water systems through both engineered and natural infrastructure. Examine opportunities for incentives from areas receiving water supplies to areas providing those supplies that could benefit each area and the state as a whole.
  • Analyze the factors contributing to freshwater loss in the state, including evaporation, excess flows into the Gulf of Mexico and infrastructure inefficiencies, and examine techniques to prevent such losses, including aquifer storage and recovery, off-channel storage and  infrastructure enhancements.
  • Evaluate the progress of seawater desalination projects near the Texas coast as a means of increasing water supplies and reducing strain on existing supplies, building on the work of the Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination (83rd session). Examine the viability of the use of public-private partnerships and of methods by which the state might facilitate such a project.
  • Evaluate the status of legislation to encourage joint groundwater planning, including HB 200 (84R), and monitor ongoing legal developments concerning ownership and access to groundwater and the impact of these developments on property rights and groundwater management.
  • Determine if sufficient safety standards exist to protect groundwater contamination from disposal and injection wells (Joint charge with the House Committee on Energy Resources).

Read the entire House’s interim charges.

View/listen to the House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock, the House Committee on Natural Resources and other committees’ video/audio broadcasts.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued charges in October 2015 to the Senate Committee on Agricultural, Water and Rural Affairs on water-related issues:

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs

  • Study and make recommendations regarding the ownership, production and transfer of surface water and groundwater in the state of Texas.
  • Study and make recommendations on improving the process of developing and executing the State Water Plan
  • Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs during the 84th Legislature, Regular Session, and make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance and/or complete implementation. Specifically monitor the Texas Water Development Board’s process in the identification and designation of brackish groundwater zones.

Read the Senate’s interim charges concerning water.

View/listen to the video/audio recordings of the committee’s meetings.

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