May 23, 2011
The Texas State Legislature today passed one of the most innovative pieces of legislation in the nation to protect what is undoubtedly one of our most precious natural resources: water.
Senate Bill 449 and Senate Joint Resolution 16, a bill and proposed state constitutional amendment that will be on the state-wide ballot in November, aim to reward conservation-minded landowners who engage in good water stewardship practices on their land. The legislation allows landowners to utilize a property valuation incentive they already qualify for, while incentivizing different land management strategies that will improve water conservation and quality. Very few states currently provide incentives for protecting water resources – and even fewer, if any at all, use the property valuation model proposed in the legislation.
“Texas is facing one of the worst droughts in modern Texas history, is growing faster than the national average, and is home to three of the 10 most populous cities in America,” said Laura Huffman, Texas state director for The Nature Conservancy. “So the quantity and quality of our water are and will remain among our most pressing issues.”
The legislation was passed unanimously in both the Texas Senate and House of Representatives, in part because it will not require new taxpayer money. It aims to help the state meet its overall water conservation goals and protect valuable open space and water quality in rivers, streams and aquifers.
“Since 95 percent of the land in Texas privately owned, most of our state’s water either flows through or sits under land that’s rightly held by private individuals. So one of the best ways to protect water is to work with private landowners,” said Senator Kirk Watson, who authored SB 449. “Our population is expected to double in the next 50 years, but our water supply will, at best, remain as it is today – unless the state finds innovative, affordable ways to meet its needs. This water stewardship legislation is one such approach. It won’t solve the state’s water problem, but it shows how we can meet this challenge in coming years as our needs grow with our population.”
The legislature also passed a bill calling for a standard methodology to measure water use across Texas. The bill will strengthen the state’s conservation efforts and help fulfill Texas’ water plan. Senator Watson co-authored that bill, SB 181, with Senators Florence Shapiro (the lead author) and Kel Seliger.
The Nature Conservancy of Texas is deeply invested in freshwater protection across the Lone Star State and helped develop the concept behind the legislation, which is similar to property valuation options offered to landowners for agriculture production and wildlife management. It is unique, however, in that its sole focus is to benefit water supply and water quality.
“Our State Water Plan calls for conservation as a major component to ensure that we have enough water to supply our state over the next 50 years,” said Representative Allan Ritter, who carried the bills in the House. “Giving landowners a cost-effective management tool to conserve water on their land helps us meet those growing demands.”
“Water is among the few issues in Texas that bridge political, economic and social divides,” said Senator Estes, co-author on the bills. “There is not a community or single person living here today that does not rely on their access to a clean and abundant fresh water supply to live and thrive. This legislation gets us one step closer to meeting our water supply needs in a cost-effective manner.”
“The Nature Conservancy congratulates the legislature and bill authors, Senators Watson and Estes and Representative Ritter for pioneering such an innovative approach to water protection in Texas – a move that couldn’t have come at a more critical time,” added Huffman. “We strongly urge the Governor to sign this legislation and the people of Texas to vote ‘Yes for Water’ this November.”