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CQ Roll Call Report: Texas Population Growth Makes Water Issues Among State's Highest Priorities in 2015

Texas has experienced booming growth in recent years (estimated at roughly 2 million people in the last four years), increasing the strain on water infrastructure needs. And historically hot and dry conditions in the last several years have drained water supplies and emptied reservoirs in many areas, so new water supply projects are desperately needed. Of the state’s growth-propelled infrastructure challenges, water is considered the most pressing. In 2013 Texas voters approved a $2 billion state water bond to help defray the borrowing costs on large-scale water infrastructure projects, including creating reservoirs, laying new pipelines, and replacing older ones, but the state estimates that it will still need a total of $53 billion to implement plans to meet water needs for the next 50 years. It is therefore no surprise that Texas ranked infrastructure and water in the top three of the state’s most high profile issues this year, accordingly to a recently issued report by CQ Roll Call.

California and Houston Mayors Speak Out on America's Urban Water Crisis

​The mayors of San Francisco and Houston recently issued a clarion call to the federal government to stop ignoring the problem of our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure.In a piece published in Politico Magazine in September, Mayors Ed Lee, San Francisco, and Annise Parker, Houston, decry the government’s passive approach to the risk of systemic water system failure in our nation’s cities. They point out that America was built on the foundation of water and wastewater pipes and tunnels and write that “today, that foundation is crumbling right under our feet.” They cite a report of the U.S. Conference of Mayors estimating that $4.8 trillion will be needed over the next 20 years to fix our country’s water systems and maintain current water service levels.

Citing the urgency of the problem in the two cities they govern, Lee and Parker write that in 2013 alone, Houston lost more than 22 billion gallons of water — 15 percent of the city’s total water supply — due to leaking pipes. That same year, there were 100 water main breaks in San Francisco. Despite this enormous cost, they say, “the federal government continues to ignore the problem. In fact, federal spending on water infrastructure is down more than 30 percent since fiscal year 2012.”

Lee and Parker make the case for the importance of water for agriculture and livestock populations, for food supplies, exports and trade, electricity and fuel generation and energy independence. As just one example, they point to equipment manufacturer GE reporting a tripling in demand for water for energy production since 1995. And they emphasize that water infrastructure investment means jobs. Lee points out that in San Francisco, for example, since 2007 the $4.6 billion investment in the region’s water system rebuild has employed 11,000 workers and counting. Lee points to a Commerce Department estimate that each of those jobs created locally creates 3.68 jobs in the national economy, and each public dollar spent yields $2.62 in economic output in other industries. These findings are consistent with those of the CWC in its economic impact study on the job creation and economic benefits that come with water and wastewater infrastructure projects. In that study, called Sudden Impact of Funding Water Infrastructure Projects, the CWC evaluated the effect of a $1 billion investment in water and/or wastewater infrastructure in terms of job creation and other economic factors, and found that every $1 billion could create approximately 27,000 jobs.

Lee and Parker detail ways in which they and other mayors believe this massive problem can be addressed, including fully funding the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act pilot program that was established in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. As we have discussed before on this blog, WIFIA provides low-interest loans and other credit support for water infrastructure projects. The Mayors point out that if San Francisco had access to a program like WIFIA, it would have saved $700 million for residents and ratepayers on a recent water system rebuild. Lee and Parker also recommend passing legislation to establish a National Infrastructure Bank to provide low-cost financing for infrastructure projects of regional significance, and support the creation of a program for water workforce development, training and education to ensure there is a pool of qualified professionals to meet current and future needs.Lee and Parker have, as they write, spent time in their cities’ tunnels so they’ve seen first hand the looming problem of failing infrastructure and the need to invest in that infrastructure now.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 1:58 pm
​WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the President of the United States signed the Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) into law. Representative Randy Weber (R-Friendswood) made the following statement:“Today is a great day for Texas District 14. With the President’s signature, WRRDA will authorize two important improvement projects for the Freeport Harbor Channel and the Sabine Neches Waterway Channel. Not only is this legislation significant to my district, but it will play a pivotal role in strengthening our nation’s waterway infrastructure to promote competition, economic growth, and the creation of good-paying jobs across the country.”Neugebauer Praises Passage of Key Water ImprovementsMay 20, 2014WASHINGTON, DC—Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) released the following statement after voting for the passage of the bipartisan, bicameral Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014.   “The Water Resources Reform and Development Act stimulates our economy, promotes trade, and boosts competitiveness,” Neugebauer said.  “It invests in America’s water infrastructure while cutting red tape and deauthorizing billions of dollars of unnecessary and backlogged projects.  This bill contains no earmarks and limits costly federal reviews, saving tax dollars while partnering with local communities to maintain our ports and waterways.”Neugebauer explained that the bill would benefit West Texas and the Big Country.  “Managing our water resources is particularly important for us in Texas.  WRRDA streamlines the project approval process, which could expedite the water infrastructure plans in development in both Abilene and Lubbock.”The House version of WRRDA passed with Neugebauer’s support in October, and the majority of these original reforms have been included in the final Conference Report.Residents Frustrated After Continuous Water Main BreaksPosted on May 6, 2014by DeAnn LopezBig Spring - Big Spring residents are frustrated with City Officials as water main breaks continue to be a major issue.Yesterday city workers had to fix a 20-inch water main break that occurred behind Big Spring High School.The broken water line left the high school and several residents without water for several hours.Many Big Spring residents told CBS 7 that the water main pipes are old and need to be replaced."We've been having this problem for years," said Big Spring resident Bill."I think it’s just going to be a patch here and a patch there, you know, it's not going to work," said Henry Arredondo, another Big Spring resident.City Mayor Larry McLellan agrees that the infrastructure has been ignored too long.The mayor was elected last may after promising the water lines and other infrastructure would be fixed.He told CBS 7 that repairs are not happening fast enough."I don’t think we've been proactive enough to take care of our business, and we want to just exist, and that’s not good for Big Spring,” he said. “There's nothing that's going to be cheaper if we wait on it.”McLellan said this year the city has allocated $1.5 million to install new water lines, however, that only covers about four miles."Is that a quick fix? No,” said McLellan. “You can’t say 1.5 million this year, and we got it fixed. We need to get where we can generate 3-4 million."He said the best thing to do would be to increase taxes, a proposal most taxpayers wouldn't like."It will be a problem, because there's people that don’t have the money to pay taxes," said Arredondo.McLellan said it's going to take an effort from the community and the city to make the necessary changes that are needed.