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House Interim Committee on Natural Resources

ON-SITE WASTEWATER TREATMENT PROGRAM
Charge

Review the On-Site Wastewater Treatment Program; identify measures to decentralize state authority and increase local government participation.
Background

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of on-site sewage facilities (OSSFs) throughout the state. In the last five years the number of permit applications has more than doubled. There have also been problems with administering the On-Site Wastewater Treatment Program (program) at both state and local levels. Other concerns include serious public health and environmental problems resulting from failing OSSFs, and the financial inability of low-income residents to comply with OSSF rules and regulations.
Recommendations

  • Review the program with heightened scrutiny as the number of OSSFs continues to increase dramatically throughout the state.

  • Review the complete delegation of the on-site wastewater program to the local government level. However, efforts to fully decentralize the OSSF program should be considered only after regional cooperative program options have been pursued for areas of the state that are sparsely populated or economically distressed. The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) should continue to work with regional entities and local governments to identify practical options for decentralizing and delegating the on-site wastewater treatment program, and report such findings to the 75th Legislature.

  • Consider allocating all monies authorized by law to be assessed for the recovery of on-site wastewater treatment program costs to TNRCC for the purposes intended.

  • Amend the definition for an "on-site sewage disposal system" in the Health and Safety Code, Section 366.002. TNRCC should draft guidance on suggested standard contract language for installation, maintenance, and repair agreements for parties utilizing cluster systems.

  • The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) should work with regional, state, and federal agencies to identify feasible options for providing low-income residents, who are financially unable to comply with OSSF rules and regulations, with access to low-interest loans and grants. The legislature should carefully evaluate TNRCC's proposal to earmark a portion of the revenues generated from on-site wastewater treatment enforcement actions for an account dedicated to assisting low-income individuals in complying with on-site wastewater treatment program requirements.

  • Consider taking measures to ensure that counties or other governmental entities which have accepted OSSF program delegation are provided notice of, or given access to information regarding, the establishment of new electric and/or water delivery service to a particular location by a public or private utility. The legislature should also consider granting immunity to public and private utilities for any potential liability they may incur by providing such information.

  • Carefully consider extending the authority that counties in economically distressed areas have been granted, which allows them to require the platting of planned subdivisions to other counties in order to limit the proliferation of developments with numerous OSSF problems.

  • Consider appropriating to the On-Site Wastewater Treatment Research Council all fees assessed and collected under the authority of Chapter 367, Texas Health and Safety Code, to be used for the purposes authorized under that chapter.

    SMALL COMMUNITY FINANCING
    Charge

    Study methods to provide affordable, state-sponsored financial assistance for small community water projects.
    Background

    Ninety percent of all community water systems across the country found in violation of drinking water regulations in 1991, were small system. With increased federal requirements and increasing scarcity of affordable water supplies, Texas' small communities are facing more formidable challenges than ever before in providing basic water and wastewater infrastructure.

    In addition to these requirements, the unit cost of service for a small community is typically much higher when compared with larger cities because of the lack of economies of scale. The federal government predicts that this cost for smaller communities will only increase over time. In the past most of these costs were paid for with federal funds, but much of the federal funding has been reduced or eliminated in recent years. Although loans exist to help small communities, accessing "traditional" water supply and wastewater loan programs has proven to be difficult due to interest rates being established at levels to ensure self-supporting programs.
    Recommendations

  • Consider appropriating monies annually to the Small Community Emergency Loan Program (SCELP) program until a sustainable revolving fund is achieved that will be adequate to respond to the emergency needs of small communities.

  • In order to provide affordable water projects for small communities, consider appropriating $3 million per biennium for three bienniums to the Texas Water Development Board to be used in conjunction with the Safe Drinking Water Act Revolving Fund capitalization grants or other available funds to offer additional interest rate subsidies.

  • In order to provide affordable wastewater projects for small communities, consider establishing a lower loan-rate category within the State Revolving Fund and appropriating $3 million per biennium for three bienniums to be used in conjunction with the SRF capitalization grants to offer additional interest rate subsidies.

    LOWER NECHES VALLEY AUTHORITY
    Charge

    Review the design, mission, and goals of the Lower Neches Valley Authority.
    Background

    The Lower Neches Valley Authority (LNVA) is a nonprofit organization funded entirely by the sale of water and by the services it provides. It delivers up to a billion gallons a day to cities, industries, and approximately 100 rice farms on a continuous 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week basis. The water rates charged by the LNVA are among the lowest of any river authority in the state for pumped water. In addition, the LNVA issues bonds to construct industrial waste treatment facilities and related air improvement facilities, provides public boat ramp construction on the Neches and Angelina Rivers, and works in conjunction with Texas Tech University to determine the feasibility of reestablishing a paddlefish population in the Lower Neches Basin. The LNVA provides other services to improve water quality in the region and actively participates in educational outreach programs to inform the general public and school children of its purposes and programs.
    Recommendations

  • To standardize the policy-making bodies of river authorities, amend the LNVA's statute so that the Board of Directors of the LNVA will be appointed by the governor, with confirmation by the Texas Senate. The legislature should maintain the current membership on the LNVA's Board of Directors at nine, with five members from Jefferson County, two from Hardin County, and two from Tyler County.

  • The LNVA should build on the successes it has had in the industrial arena by entering into joint ventures with local municipalities and other political subdivisions to enhance the economic development of the district it serves.

    LOWER COLORADO RIVER AUTHORITY
    Charge

    Study the governance, structure, and functions of the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), in light of changes in the electric utility industry and other long-term changes.
    Background

    LCRA was created to develop a reliable water supply along the lower Colorado River; to protect the region from floods; and to provide reliable, low-cost electricity to rural areas. The LCRA's primary functions are: water and river management; power generation and energy transmission; soil conversation and water pollution control; fish and wildlife preservation; parks and recreational lands management; and community assistance and local economic development.
    Recommendation

  • Periodically review the governance, structure, and activities of LCRA and other river authorities to ensure their efficient performance and compliance with the law.

    EDWARDS AQUIFER AUTHORITY
    Charge

    Monitor the court action and implementation of the laws from the 73rd and 74the Legislatures relating to the Edwards Aquifer Authority.
    Background

    The Edwards Aquifer Authority (Authority) was created in 1993 (S.B. 1477) in order to develop and implement programs for comprehensive management of the Edwards Aquifer and to allow the state to better regulate its natural resources and to avoid federal control of the aquifer. Federal courts and agencies posed legal challenges to the Authority as it was originally created, and as a result its organizational and managerial structure was changed by Texas law in 1995 (H.B. 3189) to better conform to federal rulings and law. The constitutionality of the Act which created the Authority has since been challenged, but ultimately the courts decided in favor of the Act. The plan put into action by the Act would reduce pumping from the Edwards Aquifer during critical periods. The plan's main objective would be to temporarily reduce demand on the aquifer in order to reduce the rate of spring flow decline at Comal Springs until rainfall replenishes the aquifer.
    Recommendation

  • Monitor the Edwards Aquifer Authority's implementation of S.B. 1477 and related litigation.

    OVERSIGHT
    Charge

    Conduct active oversight of agencies under the committee's jurisdiction.
    Background

    In January 1996 the House Committee on Natural Resources was charged with conducting active oversight of agencies under the committee's jurisdiction. The charge was undertaken by the committee as a whole.
    Recommendations

    The committee has no specific recommendations at the time of publication of this report, but will continue to monitor the agencies' activities with regard to National Pollution Discharge Elimination System delegation, revisions to the State Water Plan, funding for water-related programs, and other issues of state and local concern that continue to pose challenges for the agencies.