March 7, 2011
AUSTIN, Texas — If you’re getting an agricultural property tax valuation for your land, you soon may have another way to achieve it — by protecting water resources.
Sens. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin, have proposed legislation to expand Texas’ definition of agriculture land to include water stewardship. Rep. Allan Ritter, a Republican from Nederland, filed the bill in the House. The proposals aim to provide a financial incentive for Texans to be good overseers of the water on their property.
It’s all tied to a proposed constitutional amendment, which would have to win passage by two-thirds of the Legislature then be approved by Texas voters in a statewide election.
Nature Conservancy of Texas is pushing the idea, saying it won’t cost the state any money in this tough budget year while at the same time advancing the state’s water plan. The legislation is winning bipartisan support from lawmakers in many regions of the state, said Laura Huffman, state director for the Nature Conservancy of Texas.
“Conservation is as important in urban Texas as it is in rural Texas,” Huffman said. “The idea of protecting water supplies is extremely well received by private property owners.”
The Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit group that seeks to protect land, often by purchasing rural property to ensure how it is used.
Lawmakers proposing the water stewardship provision for agriculture land valuation — sometimes called an agriculture exemption — say the measure wouldn’t cost the state money because landowners who would be eligible already must have an agricultural valuation. Huffman said that’s the same situation for the wildlife agriculture exemption enacted in recent years.
The agriculture exemption allows property to be valued for agriculture uses, which may be lower than the prevailing fair market value.
Under the new proposal, a landowner claiming a “water stewardship” valuation for property tax purposes would have to promote and sustain water quality or conserve water resources by taking at least three specified actions.
Among those possible actions are erosion control; habitat stewardship benefiting water quality or conservation; restoration of native aquatic animal or plant species or riverbank species; water efficient irrigation; and control of invasive aquatic plants and animals.
Estes said farmers and ranchers who are managing their property in these ways are ensuring the future of rural land. He said the proposed incentive would help others follow their lead. Watson said the measure would harness the power of the private sector to improve water quality and quantity.
“This bill gives Texas another path to meeting the extensive demands on our water supply that we know we’ll face in coming decades,” Watson said in a prepared statement.
Texas landowners may find they prefer using their property for water stewardship than for traditional agriculture, such as grazing cattle, to obtain the exemption, Huffman said. She added that having a water valuation also would benefit the state’s water plan, which is intended to provide for water management and conservation and prepare for drought conditions.
Huffman said the proposed water stewardship valuation is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.
“It’s private property owner friendly, it’s revenue neutral and it’s moving the needle on the water plan,” Huffman said.
Conservation is as important in urban Texas as it is in rural Texas,” Huffman said. “The idea of protecting water supplies is extremely well received by private property owners.”
Laura Huffman,state director for the Nature Conservancy of Texas