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Texas Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter State Capitol E-Report
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February 3, 2011:

  • Water Legislation Starts to Flow in the Texas House and Senate

    Although not exactly streaming in yet, water legislation is being filed in both the House and the Senate on a variety of topics. Already the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has over 50 water and water-related bills in its tracking system for this regular session of the 82 nd Texas Legislature. Many of these are very limited in geographic area and/or scope – and many do not have direct relationship to the environment but deal with such things as agency and water district procedures. Two important water bills that have been introduced that are of interest to the Sierra Club are SB 181 by Sen. Florence Shapiro, which deals with the metrics used to measure water use and water conservation, and SB 449 by Senators Craig Estes and Kirk Watson to allow a property tax break for landowners who manage their land to promote and sustain water quality and conservation (the latter bill is accompanied by a proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 16).

    SB 181 is an effort to address an ongoing controversy about measuring water use and water conservation in metropolitan areas through the use of the “gallons per capita per day” or GPCD metric . The usual method for coming up with a GPCD figure for cities, for example, has been to simply take the volume of water use in the area and divide it by the population of the area. Sounds simple in theory, but it’s not so simple in practice. An area provided water service by a certain retail supplier may not correspond to city limits or census tracts. There may be a varied mix of water customers in a one area – with some cities having large institutional, commercial, and even industrial customers for water provided by a municipal government, increasing the volume of water pumped, thus perhaps inflating the GPCD figure. Another city might have primarily residential customers and few other large users, which may result in a lower GPCD figure. Bottom line: it’s complicated.

    The proposed legislation is still being refined, and apparently there are already revised versions of the draft legislation that address some early concerns about the bill. Therefore, the Sierra Club has not yet taken a position on SB 181. Sierra Club can certainly support the legislation if in its final form it retains to the state Water Conservation Advisory Council the responsibility for developing improved metrics for measuring water use and progress in water conservation (the Council already has that task and is working on it), and if the legislation is not overly prescriptive in determining what new metrics may be developed and used (but rather leaves those decisions to people with appropriate expertise). SB 181 has been referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

    The Sierra Club will support SB 449 and SJR 16, which would boost efforts to encourage and assist landowners in managing their properties in a way that protects water quality and maintains water resources . The bill and proposed constitutional amendment would allow landowners who currently qualify for the agricultural tax break on their land (the land is valued for property tax purposes according to the agricultural productivity value of the land rather than the market value) to retain that tax break if they take specific actions on their land to protect and improve water supplies – even if and when the land is no longer being used for agricultural production. This legislation, which has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, is similar to the process now in effect for landowners who wish to convert their agricultural properties to wildlife management by taking certain actions to support wildlife and protect wildlife habitat.
  • The State Capitol E-Report is a monthly electronic update from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club reporting on Texas environmental policy issues of statewide interest. Contact us at: lonestar.chapter@sierraclub.org ...Header photo "Waters Edge" copyright Susan Heller donate
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