Uresti: Use rainy day fund for the dry days ahead

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After multiple prominent Republicans have finally given their support to using the Texas Rainy Day Fund for SOMETHING, Senator Carlos Uresti is adding his voice to the call for the Legislature to fund the State Water Plan. In this op-ed, Sen. Uresti explains why water infrastructure and smart water policies are so crucial to the future of Texas, and urges lawmakers to act in the upcoming session by tapping the state's rainy day fund.

Earlier this year climate scientists were predicting a wetter than normal winter for parts of Texas, but the promise of rain faded when an expected El Nino failed to develop in the Pacific Ocean. That is often how it goes here in Texas. Despite the predictive powers of science, Mother Nature has her own ideas.

Our state is no stranger to devastating droughts, and these dry spells seem to be appearing with more regularity. The record drought of 2011 caused more than $7.5 billion in agriculture losses, and now it looks like another dry period is already underway.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor report issued on Dec. 11, almost the entire state – 94.09 percent – is abnormally dry. More than 65 percent is experiencing severe drought, while almost one third of the state is suffering extreme drought conditions. More than 8 percent of Texas is in the highest category of exceptional drought.

This and all future droughts, just like blizzards, hurricanes, and floods, remind us that humans can't control the weather. But perhaps we can control our fate.

When the 83rd Texas Legislature convenes on Jan. 8, lawmakers will face an array of challenges – most tied to adequate funding for public and higher education, health care, infrastructure, and, perhaps most important of all, water.

Much more is at stake than the water we use to make coffee or bath each morning. Sustained water shortages could devastate our livestock and agricultural industries, limit our ability to manufacture goods, slow the growth of energy production, and make recreational use of our lakes and reservoirs more hazardous. Municipalities may have to charge higher water bills and impose strict rationing on a permanent basis.

We can't make it rain, but we can prepare for the future, and that's why it's imperative that the Legislature fund the State Water Plan – a long-range blue print for new reservoirs, catchments and other infrastructure, and wise water use policies that focus on conservation, water quality, and the preservation of local standards.

The plan calls for spending more than $50 billion on water infrastructure over the next 50 years. Of course we can't provide all of that amount, even a large fraction of it, up front. But the next Legislature must make a good start.

And the place to start is the state's rainy day fund. Officially called the Economic Stabilization fund, the rainy day fund is projected to have $8 billion by the end of the year. The Legislature should appropriate at least $1 billion from the fund in the next biennium to jump start the State Water Plan.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus have stated that water will be a priority in the next session, and I believe a number of my colleagues will sign on as well. But to make it happen, the public must get behind us, along with other water stakeholders: agriculture, industry, municipalities, and the environmental community.

It may be ironic that the rainy day fund helps us get through the dry days ahead, but it was created for just such a contingency. The State Water Plan would be a wise use for the fund, and we should make the commitment now.

Senator Carlos Uresti represents State Senate District 19, which is based in San Antonio but stretches west. The Democrat was first elected to the Senate in 2006 after nine years in the Texas House.  


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