Tuesday, September 3, 2013

New Board Can Fill Leadership Vacuum on Texas Water

Monday, September 2, 2013

New Board Can Fill Leadership Vacuum on Texas Water

Tomorrow, September 3rd, the three new members of the Texas Water Development Board  will convene for the first time since being appointed by Governor Rick Perry.  At their September 3rd meeting, Chairman Carlos Rubenstein and fellow board members Mary Ann Williamson and Bech Bruun will make opening remarks, appoint an Executive Administrator and hear comments from the public.  But this short first meeting is only a prelude to the real work that lies ahead for this now full-time board:  providing the statewide agency leadership needed to achieve a sustainable water future in Texas.
Jack Welch, business guru and former CEO of General Electric, once said that “a leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organization, not as it is, but as it should be.” The new TWDB members have an unprecedented opportunity to do just that. 

The new board has the opportunity, first and foremost, to ensure that the state’s water planning process is grounded in reality, not wishful thinking, with respect to both projected demands and available supply.  It can move the planning process away from the current exercise of producing a long-term oriented wish list of expensive infrastructure projects to a focus on what, exactly, needs to be done to accelerate cost-effective efficiency strategies to stretch our existing supplies and meet real needs over the next two decades.  House Bill 4, passed in May 2013, provides the board with a prioritization process to accomplish these goals. 
The board can protect the value of healthy rivers and streams to the Texas economy and to the state’s future generations by:  working with rural landowners to protect watersheds and aquifer recharge zones; developing the science and policy tools the state needs to ensure that drought and increased climate variability don’t result in dried up rivers and lifeless bays; and recognizing that healthy flows will ensure that Texas water management decisions are not driven by federal laws like the Endangered Species Act. 

While groundwater management authority remains dispersed among over 100 local and regional districts, the board can play a role in raising awareness about the value of careful aquifer stewardship and it can help the public and water managers understand how groundwater and surface water are inter-connected. 
And, finally, the board can and should ensure that the legislature is aware of the need to invest in modern management and protection of Texas water resources.  Texas needs much better information on actual water use, near-term demands and environmental water needs.

Texas has come a long way in water management and planning since the TWDB was first established in 1957, during a devastating drought that may be exceeded only by the current one.  But, there is much more to do to respond to new challenges.  Here is hoping the new board will reimagine a TWDB that provides the statewide leadership essential to meeting those challenges and developing a sustainable water future.

By: Mary E. Kelly, Parula, LLC for Texas Center for Policy Studies

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