From the Office of State Senator Troy Fraser

For Immediate Release
December 12, 2003
Contact: William A. Scott - (512) 463-0124

Fraser Calls on General Land Office to Halt Water Deal Negotiations

AUSTIN -- Senator Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, today asked the Commissioner of the General Land Office to postpone further negotiations with private companies on prospective water deals until legislators can examine the proposals.

Fraser, in a letter to GLO Commissioner Jerry Patterson, said he was troubled by recent newspaper accounts of potential water deals being negotiated by the state agency.

"In reading about these proposed ventures, I am also surprised at the pace of the negotiations, especially given that the Texas Legislature has not been afforded the opportunity to review the proposals in detail," Fraser wrote.

Fraser noted that the Legislature in 1997 enacted major water policy legislation, Senate Bill 1, which created 16 regional water planning districts throughout the state to ensure local control of water planning decisions.

"As a matter of public policy, the Legislature decided that the state plan would include decisions made at the local level by groundwater districts and regional water planning groups," Fraser said. "The fast-paced negotiations conducted by the GLO run counter to the procedures -- and the philosophy -- of Senate Bill 1."

Last month, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst appointed Fraser to serve on the Select Senate Committee on Water Policy, as well as the Subcommittee on the Lease of State Water Rights.

The committee is charged with examining a broad range of issues relating to the management of both surface and ground water, including the rule of capture, interbasin transfers, the regional water planning process and junior water rights. The subcommittee will study proposals regarding the lease of state-owned lands their water rights for the intent of developing and marketing water.

The subcommittee is scheduled to meet in Austin on Thursday, December 18.

At least two major water deals are under consideration by the GLO.

One potential deal would allow a Midland-based company, Rio Nuevo Ltd., to lease groundwater rights on state-owned land in Far West Texas. The other would involve the GLO entering into an agreement with another private company, WaterTexas, as part of a deal to supply water to communities to an area of Central Texas along the Texas 130, the Interstate 35 bypass east of Austin.

A third proposal, envisioned by Texas businessman Boone Pickens, involves the pumping and piping of groundwater from the Texas Panhandle to other parts of the state.

"This is not a process to be rushed," Fraser said. "All parties, including the Legislature, must review these issues before any action is taken."