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NE Texas dissents on water plan

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Posted: Sunday, December 8, 2013 4:00 am | Updated: 7:30 am, Wed Dec 11, 2013.

A process to set how water planning regions across Texas will rank projects for financing has won state approval but is drawing dissent from the Northeast Texas representative.

Region D group Chairman Bret McCoy said Friday that criteria such as property rights and environmental/economic impact should have been included among elements used in ranking projects from wells to lakes that will be financed under a plan approved by voters in November.

“It’s private property rights, environmental concerns and socioeconomic effects which were the three criteria left out,” McCoy said, summing up the minority report he wrote for the Uniform Standards approved Thursday in Austin.

Those standards are half of a two-part process leading to future versions of the Texas Master Water Plan.

The 2013 bill that created Proposition 6, in which voters OK’d spending $2 billion in state reserves on water infrastructure, also called for a stakeholder committee comprised of one member from each of Texas’ 16 regional water planning groups. The panel, including McCoy, was instructed to develop a scoring system the regional groups will use in ranking projects.

Simmering dispute

There are more than 3,000 projects in the state’s 50-year water map, with an estimated cost of more than $55 billion. Forty-seven of those are in the plan for Northeast Texas, or Region D. The local projects are relatively minor, with no reservoirs envisioned in the 19-county region.

At least, not envisioned by McCoy and the Region D Water Planning Group. Their sister planning group in Dallas, Region C, does plan a Northeast Texas lake called Marvin Nichols Reservoir in Red River county.

That conflict has been ordered by a court into mediation, which is set to begin Dec. 16 in Tyler.

The Marvin Nichols saga, which began almost immediately after a 1997 law created the planning regions, might have made Region D members more sensitive to the elements McCoy argued should be among criteria for picking which projects go ahead.

Property owners along the proposed Marvin Nichols site on the Sulphur River have opposed displacement by the lake Dallas wants, and environmental and socioeconomic concerns of timber farmers and residents also fuel resistance to the reservoir.

“I don’t think we have the right to hoard our water,” McCoy said. “We just want to make sure we’re protected.”

The Texas Master Water Plan, stretching 50 years to future water needs, will be compiled from the 16 regional plans developed with the newly approved criteria.

Criteria used

The local planners have five criteria to rank projects, after which the Texas Water Development Board will use seven criteria in compiling the state plan.

“The statute for Proposition 6 set in place two levels of prioritization,” said Water Development Board spokeswoman Merry Klownower. “One level happens at the regional planning groups, and that’s actually what they just finished is the Uniform Standards. ... And then there’s a second level of prioritization that will happen at the state (level).”

The local criteria developed by McCoy and the other regional representatives are as follows:

  • The decade in which the project will be needed, with immediate needs given the highest ranking;
  • Project feasibility, including how much water it is expected to yield and the extent to which property has been secured and engineering/environmental studies conducted;
  • Project viability, or how much of the water needs of the intended users the project is expected to fulfill;
  • Project sustainability, the length of time the project is expected to produce water and whether that volume changes over time;

Cost effectiveness, how the unit cost of X amount of water compares with water infrastructure already in place.

The Texas Water Development Board criteria are as follows (these criteria are to be finalized by early 2015 in a process that includes statewide public hearings):

  • How much money the entity applying for the loan is contributing to the project;
  • The capacity of the applying entity to repay the loan;
  • The ability of the state and applicant to leverage local and federal dollars;
  • Whether the project addresses an emergency need;
  • Whether the applicant has completed design work, acquired water rights, is ready to begin construction and has found funding from other sources;
  • The project’s expected impact on conservation measures such as preventing loss of water and the efficiency of the water delivery system;

The ranking given the project by regional planners.

That 1997 law creating the regions was touted as a bottom-up approach to water planning. McCoy noted that making regional priorities just one of seven state criteria waters down that notion.

“That’s a good way to put it,” he said.

Walt Sears, manager of the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District, which provides staff for the Region D group, noted that somebody’s got to referee the sometimes opposing demands from the various regions.

“The state is going to be ranking all 3,000 projects,” Sears said. “The state is comparing projects from one region to another, and its a difficult process. For planning, it is still bottom-up, but for implementing it’s the state. And that identification (of funded projects) is likely not bottom-up, it’s likely top-down.”

Sears also echoed McCoy’s concerns outlined in the minority report.

“The bigger message is, as we develop protocols for the state, Region D’s input is private property, environmental flows and the socioeconomic impact of the projects,” he said. “Those are major things to keep in mind as we do these things, and we are concerned the regional prioritization process was too fast to deal with them. When the state goes to prioritization development, there will be public meetings.”

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