California can learn from Texas approach to water issues

I recently joined other members of the Republican Caucus leadership on a policy tour of several other states to learn how they are dealing with some of the same problems that we face in California. I found the experience very interesting and enlightening. While some people may think that our state’s problems are exclusive or unique to California, the fact is that there are many other states dealing with the same issues that we are.

We toured the states of Texas, Florida and Virginia, as they share some particular similarities with California in terms of population, demography, infrastructure, education, public safety and other issues. I found Texas to be the most comparable and enlightening.
Texas has a population of 23 million; it has witnessed a population growth rate of 6.7 percent over the last five years, compared to California’s 9.6 percent. That state has recently had to deal with major issues such as education reform, energy production, health care coverage, prison expansion, water infrastructure and transportation bonds. They have even recently passed eminent domain and workers’ compensation reform. The list of issues literally sounded like it was copied from California.

But what I found most useful was Texas’ approach to its water infrastructure problems. Like California, the state currently faces a rapidly growing population, recurring droughts, environmental concerns, and a water supply shortage that is increasingly unable to meet demands. However, unlike California, Texas is approaching the issue in a cooperative, comprehensive manner. In crafting a long-term solution to the problem, Texas policymakers have had the foresight to develop a 50-year planning period, project future populations and the corresponding water demand they will require, and plan for record drought conditions.

Texas’ plan to provide more water is a comprehensive one that includes many strategies; however, its main source of future water supplies will come from new reservoirs. The Texas Water Development Board (the equivalent to our Department of Water Resources), in conjunction with the Legislature, identified 19 potential new reservoir sites across the state to meet the its growing demand for water. This is a stark contrast to our Legislature, where Democratic leaders will not agree to three new reservoir sites in the state.

The Texas Water Development Board estimated that the state will need more than 9 million acre-feet of water over the next 50 years to meet growing demands. The plan to reach that goal consists of three main strategies: conservation, desalination and reuse, and storage (underground and surface). The TWDB estimated how much water each strategy would produce over the next 50 years.

They found that out of the 9 million plus acre-feet expected, desalination and reuse would produce more than 1.5 million acre-feet, municipal and irrigation conservation would produce nearly 2 million acre-feet, and ground and surface storage would produce more than 5.1 million acre-feet, of which surface storage would make up nearly 4.4 million acre-feet. It is estimated that the three proposed storage sites in California could produce between 700,000 and 1 million acre-feet of water alone.

In its study, the TWDB also estimated the economic costs of failing to meet the state’s water needs. It found a revenue loss of $9.1 billion in costs to businesses and wages by 2010, and a loss of $466 million in state local taxes by the same date. Those numbers escalated to $98.4 billion and $5.4 billion respectively by the year 2060. These are staggering numbers and a powerful reminder that we cannot afford not to build more water storage in California.

Also in its study, the TWDB identified the leading impediments to construction of water infrastructure; among the top reasons cited were environmental opposition, parochialism, and lack of public awareness of water supply needs. I found these reasons particularly applicable to California.

The water bond plan introduced by the governor and Senator Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno has been criticized by environmental alarmists who have no concern for the state’s water needs. It has also been written off by many urban lawmakers who oppose surface storage projects that are not in their districts and who fail to realize the statewide benefit that they provide. And finally, I believe that the public has not been made aware of the looming crisis that our water infrastructure faces.

Texas’ experience with building more water infrastructure has a lot to teach us. If we can dispel the misinformation and fears about surface storage and inform those unaware of the water crisis, I believe we can come together and build consensus to create a comprehensive water plan that will provide long-term solutions to our growing water needs.

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