State must focus on growing water problems, agency head tells UHLC students

Carlos Rubinstein, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, discusses "The Future of Texas Water Law and Policy" as part of the Fall 2013 EENR Speaker Series.

Carlos Rubinstein, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, discusses "The Future of Texas Water Law and Policy" as part of the Fall 2013 EENR Speaker Series.

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Oct. 28, 2013 -- There is no magic bullet to solve Texas’ water problem, but careful planning and increased funding will go a long way toward a solution, the chairman of the state’s Water Development Board told a lunch hour gathering today at the University of Houston Law Center.

Water concerns tend to track the history of droughts in Texas, Carlos Rubinstein said during the second of three presentations in the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center Fall Speaker Series, and when conditions ease, the sense of immediacy to do something about water resources tends to fade. “Why did we stop there?” Rubinstein asked about planning in the aftermath of major droughts. “Well, it rained.”

“We can learn from droughts by talking about the next one,” he noted, and with continued development and population growth, he said, the need for conservation, programs, and  projects becomes ever-greater.

In 1997, the state was divided into 16 regions designed to study needs, draft plans, and revise them every five years based on changing demographics and other factors. Watermaster programs to protect water rights were established and commissions to oversee them. “We’ve been doing all this work, but didn’t have a way to fund the projects,” Rubinstein said.

Proposition 6 on Tuesday’s ballot is a way to provide $2 billion in seed money toward resolving some of the state’s water issues – though far from all, Rubinstein stressed. The constitutional amendment would allow the state to dip into its “Rainy Day Fund” to provide low interest loans to pay for water resource improvements. Entities would repay the loans on a deferred basis once revenue starts flowing in from the new facilities or other improvements.

“Regardless of what happens Tuesday, the need will remain and will have to be paid for,” he said, adding, to continue on the current path would mean dire consequences over the next 50 years in lost productivity, jobs and revenue.

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