Eltife given role in water development, resource use

Published on Saturday, 25 January 2014 22:16 - Written by By Adam Russell arussell@tylerpaper.com

As the state moves forward with long-term water plans, an appointment by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst could pay dividends in giving East Texas a hand on the steering wheel.

Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and two of his colleagues in the state Senate were recently appointed to the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas Advisory Committee by Dewhurst.

Eltife said the appointment gives East Texas a strong position in the conversation about the state’s water development future.

“Water is so important to our area. We have a lot of it and we want to protect it,” Eltife said. “One of the biggest battles I have had in the Senate is making sure we’re not run over and that we have a seat at the table when planning involves our resources.”

In November, Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment to create two funds — the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas. Around $2 billion was transferred from the Economic Stabilization Fund to provide low interest loans to fast track public and private water infrastructure projects and improvements.

Dewhurst said Eltife has always been interested in water and has a strong sense of its importance to his district and the state. He said Eltife’s business and legislative experience make him an effective voice for East Texas in Austin.

It will take insights from all over the state in the search for statewide solutions to water challenges, Dewhurst said. Whether that pertains to reservoir site selection, pipeline construction or conservation efforts, the local perspective will ensure the plan meets local needs as well, he said.

Eltife said the appointment shows Dewhurst’s commitment to East Texas and an understanding the region would be a critical piece in the long-term water supply solution.

The Texas Water Development Board’s 50-year water plan would require more than $53 billion in investment to address an expected 22 percent water-demand increase by 2060. Without investment in reservoir projects and other water collection and distribution projects, the board estimates the state’s water supply would fall 8.3 million acre-feet short of demand by the same time. An acre-foot is the equivalent of the annual average usage of three to four households.

The Texas Water Development Board must develop a point system to prioritize projects and develop rules regarding how the funds will operate by March 2015.

Regional Water Planning Groups will submit water supply projects for their areas but projects will be eligible only if they were included in the state’s 2012 water plan.

The state water plan identified 130 projects in Region I, a 20-county region in East Texas, with projected costs of $884.8 million. Projects include construction of Lake Columbia in Cherokee County, $231.8 million, and $79.4 million in infrastructure improvements at Lake Palestine.

The Angelina and Neches River Authority oversees water issues in the area’s basin. General Manager Kelley Holcomb said having Eltife on an advisory committee as the different regions vie for a place on the priority ladder and the water development board develops prioritization rules, will be critical for East Texas. Holcomb said Interstate 35 divides the haves-and-have-nots with regard to water. Population centers west of I-35 will drive demand for water and water rich areas to the east will have a major bargaining chip.

“The day is coming. It’s going to happen, when water will leave this basin and go west,” he said. “When you have people of his caliber from our part of the state, it levels the playing field and that’s always good.”

Holcomb said prioritization of projects would likely be a contentious part of the decades-long process to meet demand. The sweeping legislation that triggered SWIFT will create hurdles for regions and take time to work out, he said. But, he added, creating the funding mechanism has invigorated the water development board to begin acting with haste.

Eltife said it’s not clear how the advisory committee, the water development board and other statewide stakeholders would impact the rules and implementation process. But, he said, there is a framework for planning and an understanding of the need. He said the important thing is that Dewhurst understands East Texas deserved a voice in the conversation.

“I realize we have to have a statewide solution for our long-term water needs,” Eltife said. “My concern is that we have a seat at the table.”