By Ilyas Choudry, TMO
Businesses are moving out of the Village of Vinton in far West Texas, saying they cannot operate in a community that has no wastewater and sewage system. The more than 100,000 residents of Wichita Falls near the Oklahoma border have seen their city added to a growing list of Texas cities that could run out of water within the next six months. A drought that has had a stranglehold on the state continues to grow to additional areas, with more than three-fourths of the state currently experiencing drought conditions. In South Texas, ranchers are resorting to a centuries-old practice of burning the needles off cactus and feeding the cactus to their cattle for food and water, while hauling hay and water to their herds. After a mostly dry winter, experts predict little relief as the state heads into the spring and summer months.
Many local water systems are calling on their users to reduce water usage and conserve water during the drought conditions. Residents are facing limited or prohibited outdoor watering, are unable to fill outdoor pools or wash their automobiles at home.
Just this week, the Texas Water Development Board announced it is seeking research topics to fund that will improve the stateâ€™s water resources. At the State Capitol, lawmakers are dusting off the 2012 State Water Plan. They are studying ways to pump much-needed revenue into efforts to help local governments meet the needs of aging water and wastewater infrastructure. And throughout the state, government entities at all levels and in all jurisdictions are exploring innovative projects relating to ensuring a long-term water supply and for addressing infrastructure needs. The result will be a multitude of contracting opportunities for everything from engineering to construction to maintenance.
Some contracting opportunities may be small, such as the recently approved $25,000 expenditure by the Beeville Water Supply District for maintenance of pump problems at its raw water intake structure on the Nueces River. Others will be multi-million-dollar projects such as Weslacoâ€™s $43 million water treatment expansion that includes building a new plant and retrofitting the current plant with more efficient materials to ensure additional capacity.
There are also likely to be more public-private partnership opportunities. Some water utilities and districts throughout the state are taking in less revenue because their customers are conserving and using less water. The last thing they need as they face aging infrastructure and deferred maintenance projects is less money. Some will be open to working with a private partner that can bring a revenue source to help pay for expensive infrastructure they otherwise could not afford. Big ticket projects such as desalination plants are definitely on the horizon and could represent a perfect pairing for public and private partners.
Some members of the Texas Legislature are hoping to provide funding to the tune of up to $2 billion from the stateâ€™s rainy day fund. The money could be used to help fund the stateâ€™s water plan and set up a State Water Implementation Fund to help finance loans for regional water projects. According to the 2012 State Water Plan, $26.9 billion is needed over the next 50 years for projects of state water providers.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst came out in support of using $1 billion of the rainy day fund to help finance local projects. He supports creating a water infrastructure bank that can be used as a revolving fund to continue building in the future. A Texas House committee recently approved legislation to create the State Water Infrastructure Fund of Texas that will help finance reservoirs, pipelines and even desalination plants by leveraging bond funding.
Water issues have become a priority in Texas â€“ for providers at the local level to lawmakers at the State Capitol. Funding increases for projects statewide could mean resolution of issues faced by local governments and opportunities for the private sector to be part of the solution.