Natural Resources Committee approves landmark bill by Sen. Lucio creating Rio Grande Regional Water Authority
Austin, TX--Today the Senate Natural Resources Committee, on which state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) sits, approved six to zero the creation of a Rio Grande Regional Water Authority that would serve the water interests of communities along the Rio Grande.
"This legislation is an example of all interested parties from South Texas pulling together to establish a cohesive body that will represent the water needs of residents in a six-county area along the Rio Grande for the first time in history," said Sen. Lucio.
As co-author of Senate Bill 1902, state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen) remarked, "This bill is a step in the right direction. The Valley needs to have this discussion in dealing with the rapid growth of urban areas and how we are going to deal with the future needs of both our farmers and our cities."
The Authority, developed with the help of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, would assist and serve six counties below the Amistad Reservoir--Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo, Starr, Zapata and Webb-- with water conservation and management activities on a regional basis.
Fifteen members would comprise the Authority, with nine appointed by the Governor--seven representing water rights stakeholders and two representing municipalities. One of the members from the municipalities would represent bigger cities with water utility boards and the other smaller cities without these boards. The remaining six members would each be appointed by their county commissioners court, and their participation would reflect grassroots interest in water development.
Senate Bill 1902 requires the RGRWA to:
- Assist with implementing the Rio Grande Valley Desalination Project - serving as local sponsor of the Project with power to fund, construct, and operate such projects.
- Water supply and wastewater treatment - coordinate, fund, construct and provide service to areas, especially to economically distressed areas (colonias), not currently receiving service. The Authority could also provide such service as a wholesale supplier to municipalities and other public utilities if requested.
- Provide and expand a water supply through agricultural conservation - coordinate, fund and construct agricultural conservation projects and serve as the "neutral broker" for transactions by which irrigation conservation projects could make water available for future municipal and agricultural demands. The Authority could contract with area water districts or irrigation districts to finance and build needed infrastructure for the districts, with the interest and principal on such project loans paid for from the sale of conserved.
- Develop solid waste collection and disposal to the extent not addressed by existing entities.
- Assist in obtaining and coordinating state and federal grant and loan funds for agricultural conservation, water and wastewater service to colonias, and municipal supply.
- Assist in obtaining and coordinating delivery of water from Mexico to water rights holders, pursuant to treaty obligations.
The bill is the direct result of a January 2001 recommendation by the Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Group (Planning Group M), which was charged under Senate Bill 1 from the 75th legislative session to review present and future water needs of the region. The recommendation to create a regional water entity for managing the Rio Grande was included in the Texas Water Development Board's "Water for Texas" compilation the same year, and forwarded to the executive and legislative branches for action.
"The Rio Grande is the only major water basin in Texas without a river authority and it is recognized as having some of the most difficult water-related problems in the nation," said Sen. Lucio. "In an area with a population of over 1.1 million residents and still growing, we desperately need one group working collectively to facilitate solutions to shared water-related concerns of the region and to solicit state and federal funds for water projects."
"The RGRWA represents a tremendous opportunity for the Rio Grande region, added Sen. Lucio. "It is my belief that the Authority will be a comprehensive voice on water issues for the region, representing all interests, and giving the region greater credibility in local, regional, national, and bi-national matters."
Note: The staff members in charge of this bill are Chief of Staff Paul Cowen and Christopher Smith, research analyst. The bill will now be sent to the Local and Uncontested Calendar of the Senate--where bills of a local nature that are not contested are quickly passed--and then the bill will be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.