Politics

New House caucus aims to put water infrastructure upgrades front-and-center of Texas legislative agenda

Much of the new Texas House Water Caucus’ effort will go towards helping midsized and smaller communities, but cities like Houston – which has seen three major disruptions of its water supply since 2020 – will benefit as well.

Texas is projected to have a record surplus for the coming fiscal year. Now, a bipartisan group of lawmakers hopes to steer some of that money to badly needed upgrades to the state's water infrastructure.

The newly launched Texas House Water Caucus aims to pass bills to fund water infrastructure development throughout the state. Caucus chair Tracy King, who represents Uvalde County, sees strong support from leaders in both legislative chambers.

"Myself as chairman of House Natural Resources (and) the Senate chair of the Natural Resources Committee have both expressed an interest in providing long-term assistance to communities for water infrastructure and water supply," King said, "And I know the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor (have also), and I think there's a lot of support for it." Governor Greg Abbott also expressed support for investment in water infrastructure in his inaugural address today.

King's House Natural Resources Committee will have jurisdiction over water infrastructure legislation in the lower chamber, raising the odds that the caucus's preferred bills will get a floor vote in the House of Representatives.

King says a major focus will be on providing aid to midsized and smaller communities that lack the resources for upgrades, but he says larger cities like Houston will benefit as well. "And they're also in a position to be able to benefit from the current programs that the (Texas) Water Development Board has in place to help cities to revitalize and refurbish their water supply and their sanitation and all the different types of water issues that they have."

Houston has had extended water outages three times since 2020. Most recently, the city was under a boil water notice for the better part of two days in November, after a power outage at one of its main water purification plants raised concerns about potential contaminants in the water supply.

The new House Water Caucus has more than three dozen members from across the political spectrum, including five members from the Houston area: State Reps. Armando Walle, Charles Cunningham, Jolanda Jones, Jacey Jetton, and Senfronia Thompson.

"My goal is, with this record amount of dollars that we will have this coming session, that we spend those dollars on human capital, on the infrastructure of opportunity for our citizens," Walle said.

Still, any aid coming out of the 88th Legislature is only likely to scratch the surface of the state's water infrastructure needs. The Texas Rural Water Association has estimated that meeting all the state's repair and upgrade needs would cost $330 billion, while limiting repairs to infrastructure over 40 years of age would cost $190 billion.

“We have to work in tandem with our federal partners under the Clean Water Act, under our state partners with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and obviously with our local municipalities,” Walle said.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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