Last week, pretty much everybody and his grandmother thought the state water plan was deader than an Elvis Presley-era jumpsuit.
Hopes were high when the 83rd legislative session opened in January. Many people who pay attention to this stuff (i.e., people like us who think water rights are interesting, and the farmers, ranchers and local government officials who have all been feeling the pinch of water being harder to get) thought the lawmakers who'd arrived in Austin planning to fund an overhaul of the state water infrastructure would get it done in two shakes of a lamb's tail.
House Bill 4 proposed setting up a 50-year water plan and creating a kind of bank that would lend money at very low interest rates to local governments to let them build water projects to improve their water supplies. The water plan would pull $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund -- a fund made up of oil and gas severance tax -- to provide the money for water projects to update the state's water infrastructure so that next time there's a drought, maybe towns like Spicewood won't run out of water.
With the state's population projected to just keep on growing over the coming decades and the taste of what it feels like to not have enough water when a drought hits, Gov. Rick Perry even put the water plan at the top of his legislative priority list. But that was back in January. House Bill 4 made it through the House and Senate, but House Bill 11, authored by Rep. Allan Ritter, the one that would actually fund the project by drawing money from the multibillion-dollar Rainy Day Fund, died on the House floor last Monday.
The bill was shot down by Tea Party Republicans (who didn't want to draw from the Rainy Day Fund) and House Democrats (who wanted the bill to include education funding in the legislation).
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
It was killed by a technicality, according to The Texas Tribune. Houston's own Rep. Sylvester Turner called a point of order, a term for pointing out a procedural problem with the bill, and prevented the bill from coming to a vote, according to StateImpact Texas. Turner objected to pulling from the Rainy Day Fund for water unless they also pulled from it to fund public education, according to the Dallas Morning News. Ritter declared the bill dead and all hope for the state water plan lost.
But this could be a case of being "mostly dead, which means slightly alive," according to the Texas Tribune. There are 30 days left of the session and Ritter may still bring his bill back to the House floor starting today and it may still get passed.
So supporters of House Bill 11 may still find a way to get the two-thirds majority needed to get it through the House. The Senate version of the funding bill has already been passed and approved. Meanwhile, Perry has threatened to call a special 30-day special session if lawmakers don't manage to get the water plan passed and funded, which is basically like the teacher saying the school year may be over but you won't be leaving until you actually finish your math.
Maybe by then someone will have worked some backroom magic to get enough House Tea Party Republicans and Democrats on their side. This could always be done by pointing out that, despite all that rain Houston got a couple weeks ago, most of the state is either still in a drought or hovering on the edge of drought. And summer hasn't even showed up yet.