orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

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March 7, 2013

APNewsBreak: Texas board lists top water projects

(Continued)

AUSTIN, Texas —

A historic drought caused an unprecedented $7.6 billion in agricultural losses in 2011 and made water a priority for the Legislature. The drought resulted in severe water restrictions statewide, significantly depleted crucial reservoirs and dried out rivers. While conditions have eased, the state still hasn't fully recovered.

Water board chairman Billy Bradford told the AP the list was created at the request of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Fraser and based on criteria they set forth. Still, he said, the agency delivered the list with unease.

"It was in direct response to a very specific request from them," Bradford said. "And quite frankly, one that we weren't terribly comfortable with. Because really, we never felt like we were in a position to be setting priorities for these regions."

Several bills have been drawn up, including one by Fraser, that propose taking $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to create a revolving loan program so communities can begin working on projects outlined in the state water plan.

Fraser's bill also suggests replacing the part-time, six-person water board with a full-time three member team. He complained publicly in a February meeting about asking the water board for a list of priorities and not receiving a response.

Emails obtained by the AP indicate that one version of the list was given to Dewhurst a month earlier, along with an explanation of how it was compiled and suggestions for changing the water code to give the board the authority to prioritize projects in the future.

The $8 billion price tag for the projects identified as priorities far exceeds the $2 billion the Legislature is considering handing over.

That $2 billion is also far below the $27 billion the agency has estimated the state would need to contribute to fully implement the state water plan, which outlines more than 560 projects with an estimated total cost of $53 billion. Cities, municipalities and water utilities have indicated they would be able to put up about half of that amount.

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