Healthcare, H2o and How to Keep the Lights On

We had a great response to my call last week for people to be a part of our healthcare community.The momentum doesn’t surprise me.  After all, people want to improve the opportunities for uninsured people to get the quality medical care they need. And we clearly need more doctors, including those who are training, so that the underserved aren’t left at the end of the line, waiting and hoping to get needed care.Central Texans also want us to do better with psychiatric care, which is in bad shape, and to take action so we can become a major center for cancer care and research. They want the medical assets that will allow them to get the treatment they need in Austin, not necessarily force them to go to Dallas, Houston or some other city far from home.

And they want the roughly 15,000 new, permanent jobs and nearly $2 billion in economic activity that this investment in our knowledge-based economy has been projected to create.

This community initiative – to build a medical school, 21st Century teaching hospital, uniquely Austin health clinics and research resources that will make Austin a health science center – will build on the Austin way of life that values intelligence, inclusiveness and community well-being.

It’s all part of the process for achieving my 10 Goals in 10 Years, which represent a transformative investment in our health, neighborhoods and economy.

If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll take a moment right now to sign up here to be a part of this vital community effort.

Will electrical current run through water? The shocking answer

It’s pretty well obvious at this point how destructive this drought has been to Texas. And it’s equally obvious how much trouble Texas will be in if we don’t get serious about implementing the official state water planthat spells out our water needs – and ideas for meeting them – over the next 50 years.What isn’t always clear, though, is just how much is at stake in whether or not Texas meets this challenge we know is coming.For instance, what does our water picture mean to our electricity grid? At what point does trouble getting water when you open a faucet become trouble getting light when you flip a switch?

This was the question I put before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee last week for a hearing on, in part, the state’s power supply. There were a couple of good articles about the hearing you can find here and here.

Nearly 40 percent of Texas’ river and lake water is needed to generate our electricity. As things stand, the state is already projected to fall below recommended power reserves before new power plants could come on-line. A long-running water shortage, obviously, could make this bad problem even worse.

(By the way, this capacity problem shows exactly why Texas needs a long-range energy plan. I’ve filed bills that would start the process for writing such a plan, but they’ve never even been given hearings in the legislature. I also asked the Public Utility Commission last week to reconsider its decision not to create more opportunities for solar and other renewable power projects that could help fortify the state’s power grid without relying so heavily on our water supply. But that’s a big topic for another time.)

The costs of doing nothing

If there’s any good news here, it’s the quietly growing awareness at the Capitol that the water plan isn’t the sort of document we can just throw on a shelf and ignore.

Folks are beginning to wake up – finally – to the stark consequences for failing to act.

Think of it this way: The population of Texas is projected to double in the next 50 years or so. But our basic amount of water will, at best, remain about where it is now.

So how do we spread the same amount of water among twice as many people? The water plan suggests about $53 billion (over about 50 years) in projects and strategies. Unfortunately, those in control of the state haven’t funded the plan in a way that begins to recognize the size of this challenge.

And the costs of doing nothing are back-breaking. Right now, the water plan says, Texas is losing more than $11 billion in annual income due to water shortages. And if we fail to prepare for future growth and droughts? Then the losses jump to $115 billion – per year – by 2060.

Already, a harsh, historic drought is strangling many parts of this state. Local governments and water suppliers are scrambling for strategies to meet our most basic needs – for our economy as well as our day-to-day lives – should this drought continue (as many predict it will).

Doing something

I’ll be talking more in coming months about legislation and strategies to help the state build out the water plan and prepare for its future. Filling out this approach – and passing it through the legislature – will require a lot of hard work and tough choices by a whole lot of different people in every part of this state.

But the principles and values of any meaningful solution should be clear to everyone:

  • We’ve got to be as innovative and technologically savvy as we possibly can about the cheapest, most straightforward, least controversial water supply strategy there is: Conservation.
  • We’ve got to take a hard look at every dollar the state spends on water and make sure the projects we’re funding align with the priorities we share.
  • We’ve got to bring every possible partner to the table and explore public-private partnerships to stretch our resources as far as possible.
  • And we absolutely must stop pretending and promising that Texans can get something for nothing. We’ve got to have a realistic, mature conversation about what it will take to build our future, what that will cost, and how we can responsibly cover that cost without hurting our economy or our people.

It probably goes without saying that water will be one of my most important priorities as I prepare for next year’s legislative session. But it also should be among the top priorities for every legislator and every Texan.

After all, excuses will mean nothing to our children and grandchildren – particularly in the face of a long-foreseen catastrophe.

Luckily, we still have time to act. Let’s not waste it.