URGENT - Protect Rural Lands & Water Resources
Senate Bill 3 is an omnibus water bill that has passed the Texas Senate and is being carried in the House by Rep. Robert Puente (San Antonio). The bill is set on the House calendar for floor action for today (Monday, May 21) but is not expected to be acted on until Tuesday (May 22).
Most of the provisions of Senate Bill 3 are good provisions from the standpoint of the Sierra Club and many other environmental groups – including consensus provisions on environmental flow protection, water conservation, and voluntary land stewardship that were negotiated by environmentalists and water supply interests.
HOWEVER, Article 3 of Senate Bill 3 was included in the bill at the behest of the Texas Water Development Board and certain other water development interests. Article 3 in the original bill would have designated 19 land areas in the state as “unique reservoir sites.”
The purported purpose of the designation would be to prevent the state or a political subdivision of the state from being able to undertake activities or spend money for activities that would preclude the use of that site in the future as a site for constructing a dam and reservoir to impound a stream and store water.
The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups (including the National Wildlife Federation and Environmental Defense) dispute the need for additional reservoirs to meet future water supply needs in Texas.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups believe that the Texas state water plan grossly overestimates the amount of water needed by the state in the future. For one thing TWDB state water planning assumes that enough water must be available to meet all normal water uses even during a drought as severe as the “historical drought of record” – in other words people should have enough water to keep their thirsty lawns green even during a severe drought – not just enough water to meet essential human needs.
That leads to over-planning and overbuilding water development projects. Moreover, in the current state water plan, some regions – especially the one that includes the Dallas area - have proposed water projects that would provide as much as one-third more water than is projected to be needed even under the “peak” need assumptions used by TWDB.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups believe that the state’s true water needs may be met through a combination of several strategies – with the priority being better planning for droughts and enhancing water conservation and the efficient use of existing water supplies.
Therefore, environmental groups believe that designating reservoir sites is unnecessary and distracts from the steps that need to be taken to pursue these other water management strategies of higher priority.
Moreover, in many instances, reservoirs that would be built on these sites would flood valuable farm land, ranch land, timber land, and/or endangered ecological habitats such as bottomland hardwood forests.
One of the sites that would have been designated by the bill as filed is actually the area that the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated as the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge, an action that has been challenged in federal court by TWDB and the City of Dallas, who want to see Fastrill Reservoir built on that site to meet water demands from one of the most water wasteful areas in the state –the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Private property interests are concerned that reservoir site designations will put a cloud over property use and property values, in some cases for decades to come, since TWDB estimates themselves do not foresee a demand for many of these reservoirs for many years, if ever.
Environmentalists and private property interests were able to convince a majority of the members of the House Natural Resources Committee to delete four of the proposed reservoir site designations from the bill. The four were the sites for the proposed Marvin Nichols, Fastrill, Little River, and Little River Off-Channel reservoirs (the first two of which would be built to the wasteful Dallas area).
A majority of the Committee members also added to the bill protections for landowners whose land would be designated as part of a unique reservoir site.
Unfortunately, 15 reservoir site designations remain in the bill, and Dallas area interests will attempt to reinstate designations for the Marvin Nichols and Fastrill reservoir sites when the bill is debated on the House floor. Moreover, additional protections for landowners are needed in the bill, and designation of any reservoir sites should not become effective until cities wanting water from a reservoir have demonstrated that they are practicing good water conservation.
Therefore, the Sierra Club is asking concerned citizens to contact their members of the Texas House and urge them to take the following positions on amendments to SB 3:
• support the amendment by Rep. Frost to eliminate all reservoir site designations from the bill;
• oppose the amendments by Rep. Hill and Rep. Hartnett to reinstate reservoir site designations for the proposed Marvin Nichols and Fastrill reservoirs;
• support amendments by Rep. Frost and Rep. Phillips to enhance landowner protections in cases where any reservoir sites are designated; and
• support the amendment by Rep. Frost that would make designation of a reservoir site contingent upon cities wanting the reservoir to demonstrate first that they are practicing good water conservation.
The debate over SB 3 on the House floor is going to be complicated by over 60 prefiled proposed amendments to the bill that deal with many water issues.
The Sierra Club urges House members to vote consistently for sustainable groundwater and surface water management. For example, House members should:
• oppose the amendment by Rep. Callegari to remove existing requirements (such as a demonstration of good water conservation) on applicants for interbasin transfers of surface water;
• oppose each of the separate amendments by Reps. Puente, Hilderbran, and Morrison that would raise the current cap on annual pumping of groundwater from the Edwards Aquifer BUT support any amendments by Rep. Rose to these amendments that would seek to protect San Marcos Springs (a major discharge point for the aquifer).
Because it is impossible at this point to know what SB 3 will look like after all of the debate and action on the proposed amendments to the bill on the House floor, the Sierra Club is asking House members to use their best judgment on the final vote on passage of SB 3 on the House floor.
The Sierra Club will not include the record vote on final passage of SB 3 in any end-of-the session voting score for legislators but will include record votes on the amendments cited above in any such tally.
Obviously a “clean” SB 3 with ONLY the environmental flows and water conservation provisions of the bill (Articles 1 and 2 of the bill) deserves support, and the Club hopes that a majority of members would support the bill in that case.