Texas said yes: a referendum to protect its water infrastructure

The state approves a constitutional amendment to establish a $1 billion stable public fund

Texas has set a $1 billion path for its own future to ensure safe, clean, and accessible drinking water for communities across the state. On November 7th, Texan voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution creating the Texas Water Fund, a stable public fund to address aging water infrastructure.

The $1 billion investment marks the first practical implementation in the last decade of long-awaited long-term funding for Texas water networks, now under stress and in situations of chronic degradation. Last summer, record heat and drought caused the rupture of old pipes and water conduits, resulting in the loss of billions of liters of water in major cities, despite a historic growth in the resident population.

Investments needed for Texas water infrastructure

According to an analysis by the National Wildlife Federation, Texas public utilities lose an average of 51 liters of water per service connection every day. The new fund sets in motion a program that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers a significant boost to help Texas meet a need estimated at over $60 billion to repair water infrastructure.

“Texas rural water systems are in deep disrepair,” said Vanessa Puig-Williams, director of the Texas Water Program at the independent Environmental Defense Fund. “The Texas Water Fund is absolutely necessary as it specifically prioritizes funding for rural communities.”

Texas, emphasized the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), is the second most populous state in the nation, behind California. With a population approaching 29 million people and growing by over 1,000 people per day, the need for reliable and resilient infrastructure is crucial. The ASCE’s report card for Texas drinking water, according to the latest 2021 survey, is “C-,” while the grade for wastewater disposal systems is even “D,” both well below passing.

Solutions adopted by other U.S. states

Other states facing constant water supply and drought issues have performed better than Texas so far. Nevada, for example, has been increasing investments in the sector for years, funding futuristic projects such as Intake 3, or the “third straw,” built by the Webuild group in 2017. This project allows Lake Mead to regulate the water needs of Las Vegas and surrounding communities.

Texas legislators, despite facing a record budget surplus, are constitutionally obligated to adhere to spending limits set by the budget itself. This requires them to seek voter approval for new spending chapters through constitutional amendments. The creation of the just-approved Texas Water Fund ensures a flow of money for water systems in future budget cycles.

Public and private organizations supporting the fund’s approval argue that the billion-dollar investment will serve as a development lever to attract additional funds and support wide-ranging initiatives and projects. A portion of the new fund is allocated to researching new water sources through desalination or importing water from other states, while the rest will go towards repairing existing infrastructure through programs managed by the Water Development Board, an entity also provided for in the Texas constitution and consisting of three members appointed by the state governor.