July 26, 2011
Next week, the place to be is wherever you’re reading this. So you’d better RSVP and do it quick.
Next Tuesday, I’ll host an online town hall meeting to talk about the recent, dearly departed Texas Legislative Session. We’re going to focus on the 4 Big Things you need to know about what just happened under the dome.
And what are those things, you ask? I guess you’d better tune in. I’ve also put together a very smart panel to help put everything in perspective:
But really, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The first thing you need to do is RSVP and submit whatever question you have. If you’re partial to Facebook, do that on this events page. You can also sign up on my web site at http://www.kirkwatson.com/online-office/online-town-hall.
And, most importantly, tell your friends. Invite them through the Facebook page. Send links. Line up babysitters. Create a drinking game. Do what you need to do. Because this legislative session’s going to have as much impact on our state’s future as any I can remember.
Let’s talk about what we’re going to do about it.
Feeling the heat
You know about the drought.
You see the grass and plants turning brown and shriveling up around your neighborhood. You feel the furnace every time you walk outside. Even those of you who don’t work on farms or ranches have read about the worries of those who do.
So it’s easy to feel what’s going on. But it’s still hard to comprehend just how terrible this drought is.
The current dry spell is threatening to challenge the drought of the 1950s in the toll it takes on our state and our water supplies (check out this editorial from the Statesman over the weekend putting it into context). That punishing period 60 years ago is known by water planners as the “Drought of Record,” meaning it’s the benchmark, for water planning purposes, of what we need to be prepared for if things get historically bad.
In other words, our current trouble may yet become our worst-case scenario.
But the state’s problems aren’t just a matter of short-term weather patterns. While Texas has done a decent job of planning for our water future, the state has failed to implement the plan – or even figure out how to implement it.
In other words, we know what we’ll need to sustain our people and our economy, and we know what it will take to meet that need. But those in control have yet to step up to the challenge of making that plan a reality.
People love bragging about the growth Texas is experiencing, but there’s a dangerous inability to talk about the infrastructure – even with something as basic as water – that growth requires.
And if we don’t have that discussion soon or get results from it, then this terrible drought we’re experiencing could start looking closer and closer to the new normal.
Steps in the right direction
I’m proud of a couple of accomplishments from the past legislative session that will help move the state in the right direction when it comes to water.
One is what we call the Water Stewardship bill – a bipartisan measure I worked on with the Nature Conservancy of Texas. This will create incentives for property owners to manage their land in a way that encourages conservation and improves water quality without costing the state any additional money.
The truth is that there’s nothing more important to Texas’ present and its future than a water supply that’s clean and that won’t dry up. Proposition 8 will help protect our rivers, creeks and aquifers, along with our economy and the opportunity for our children and grandchildren to prosper.
Water (rate hikes) everywhere
Also, this Thursday, I’m chairing a public hearing on an issue that speaks directly to the relationship between water customers and companies in this new environment.
Last month, it was announced that I’d co-chair a Senate subcommittee to examine the rising cost of water and sewer utility service, particularly in parts of the state outside cities.
In these areas, folks are frequently served by what are known as “investor owned utilities” – private, for-profit companies that provide utility service. The state grants these companies what amounts to a monopoly on service in a particular area and regulates the rates they can charge for their service.
Increasingly over the last decade, big out-of-state utility companies have swooped into Texas and other states to buy far-flung water systems and bundle them together. As a result, thousands of customers who have nothing in common but the return address on their water bills are paying the same across-the-board water and sewer rates.
And, as you might expect, some of those rates just keep getting more and more expensive – scandalously so, in some cases.
Which brings us to Thursday, when I’ll chair a public hearing investigating how these companies are doing their business and what more the state needs to do to protect Texans. The hearing will be at 10 a.m. in Room E1.016 in the Capitol (in the underground extension north of the dome). You can watch it live here.
I’ll let you know how it goes. And you can bet that this will be a big priority for me – along with other issues that will define Texas’ water future – as I start preparing for the next legislative session.