The House Committee on Natural Resources has released its interim report to the 87th Legislature. The report includes recommendations relating to the implementation of new legislation, promoting development of future water supplies, planning process for aquifer preservation, and review of State Auditor Reports. The report also includes additional discussions on groundwater-surface water interactions and water markets. For more information please see the full report here.

Spotlight on Recommendations

Interim Charge 1A: Flood Programs (HJR 4, SB 7, SB8)

  • Work with the TWDB and nonprofit groups such as land trusts to promote the use of nonstructural projects through the Food Infrastructure Fund and State and Regional Flood Planning Process.
  • Work with the TWDB, TDEM and the GLO to increase inclusivity practices for socially vulnerable communities in the planning process and disbursement of funds.
  • Explore opportunities to consolidate GLO’s flood planning and flood project financing activities into TWDB and TDEM existing programs.

Interim Charge 1B: Modifications to Water Rights Permitting & Underground Injection Control (UIC) for Aquifer Storage and Recovery and Aquifer Recharge Projects (HB 720)

  • According to TCEQ, the agency has not yet received any applications for an expedited permit for a water right to divert and store surface water in an ASR or AR project. The Legislature will be in a better position to evaluate whether changes are warranted to this program as this newly created tool is utilized.

Interim Charge 1C: Aquifer Storage and Recovery and Aquifer Recharge Project Statewide Feasibility Assessment (HB 721)

  • Following the approval of the 2022 State Water Plan, ASR team plans to update the list of recommended and alternative water management strategy projects to review for study.

Interim Charge 1D: Brackish Groundwater Studies & Permitting (HB 722)

  • Work with TWDB to develop a process by which affected parties can petition the agency to amend the boundaries of a Brackish Groundwater Production Zone.

Interim Charge 1E: Interregional Planning Council (HB 817)

  • Develop a module at the TWDB that works in parallel to the Regional Water Planning Process to identify and foster the development of multi-regional, visionary projects.
  • Provide the TWDB with one full-time employee to facilitate the work of the Interregional Planning Council.

Interim Charge 2: Promoting the development of future water supplies

  • Provide for an appellate process to challenge a determination of a violation of the public interest by the PUC.
  • Interested stakeholders should work with the PUC on their proposed undertaking to review and update portions of the Texas Water Code in regards to the wholesale ratemaking appellate process.
  • Permit TCEQ and PUC to adopt new thresholds that would initiate the required regionalization, consolidation, or closure of systems that incur significant health-based violations during a period and initiate a public petition process to start this review.

Interim Charge #3: Monitor the joint planning process and achievement of desired future conditions for Aquifers

  • Continue to monitor and assess the impacts of the DFCs that are submitted to the TWDB through May of 2021.
  • Work with TWDB to rectify instances in which a groundwater conservation district submits a management plan to the agency that contains a DFC that was deemed “no longer reasonable” or “unreasonable.”

Interim Charge #4: Review of State Auditor’s Reports in the Committee’s Jurisdiction

  • No recommendations

Additional Topic: Groundwater-Surface Water Interaction

  • Create a statewide advisory group to develop policy recommendations related to improving the understanding of and management of groundwater and surface interactions in Texas. The advisory group should consist of a diverse group of stakeholders and provide opportunity for public input.

Additional Topic: Water Markets

  • The Committee received several recommendations to amending TWC § 11.173(b) to add a statutory exemption from cancellation of a water right to owners who have entered into forbearance agreements with entities that are focused on enhancing and protecting environmental flows on Texas watercourses, bays, and estuaries would enhance the ability of water rights holders to realize the value of their water rights and further bolster the opportunity for environmental flow needs to be met through voluntary, market-based agreements.
  • Environmental advocates also recommend advancing the recognition of the value of groundwater in place, but note that this would require significant investment in modeling. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the first step is understanding the local interactions between groundwater and surface water and then determining what volume of water can be sustainably pumped in the long term without adversely impacting surface water.