HCA’s Legislative Recap – 2015

See also:
– Texas Water Journal 84th Legislative Recap: summaries of water-related legislative action Dean Robbins, Stacey Allison Steinbach, Ken Kramer, Sarah Rountree Schlessinger, Perry L. Fowler
– Our Texas Water‘s 84th Legisilative Recap

Texas Water Conservation Association (TWCA) 84th Legislative Recap

Rainwater Harvesting:
Water shortages and growing demands make the age-old practice of rainwater harvesting one of the most practical, efficient strategies for our region. These bills could have been a step in the right direction. Keeping the do-it-yourselfers encouraged and without burden is important. A fair licensing program could help with acceptance of RWH by the lending community. Providing financial incentives and reasonable standards could be beneficial also. Neither of these rainwater harvesting initiatives passed.

HB 3837 – Lucio III: Creates a licensing program for certain rainwater harvesting activities. Endorsed by the Texas Rainwater Catchment Association – A companion for this bill was not filed in the Senate. The house bill was heard and a sub was passed out of the House Natural Resource committee but that’s as far as it went.

SB 1419 – Kolkhorst: Allows private property owners to install, service, or repair plumbing used for rainwater harvesting on their own property without a plumbing license if the plumbing is not connected to a public water supply. This was a good bill, it never was referred to committee and there was not a companion filed.

Groundwater
Texas’ Rule of Capture only works alongside effective groundwater management through groundwater conservation districts.

GOOD for groundwater management and GCD’s:
HB 3405 – Isaac / SB 1440 – Campbell: Expands the jurisdiction of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District to include the areas of the Trinity Aquifer in Hays County outside of the HTGCD including the highly controversial Electro-Purification (EP) wells. While HB 3405 and the companion SB 1440 had tremendous local and regional support, the lobby for EP and some very influential advocates worked against this legislation throughout the session. Senator Perry, Chairman of the Senate Ag/Water/Rural Affairs Committee worked hard against this bill although it had no effect on his Lubbock based district. Towards the end of the session, HB 2075, a bill that removed a provision for the Needmore Ranch MUD that prohibited groundwater use for any development in the MUD, moved quickly to pass and at the same time, HB 3405 was allowed to move through the Senate and back to the House for concurrence. With just a few days left in the session, Representative May Gonzalez of El Paso held things up with a point of order that was eventually over-turned. The legislation ended up passing both chambers, but not without significant compromise including assurance of “a process for existing well owners to apply for a Temporary Permit within the first 90-days to continue to operate the well for up to the maximum production.” The bill becomes law in 20 days or when the Governor signs the bill, whichever occurs first. See www.bseacd.org for details and helpful frequently asked questions.

HB 2407 – Miller / SB 963 Campbell: Creates the Comal County Groundwater Conservation District. Passed

HB 1232 – Lucio III: Initiates a study by TWDB to map confined and unconfined aquifers. Passed

HB 1819 – Miller: Alters the election cycle for the Hill Country Underground Water District. Passed

HB 1207 – Murr / SB 363 – Fraser: Alters the election cycle for the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District. Passed

HB 3163 – Cyrier: Protects groundwater district board members from harassment lawsuits against them as individuals. Passed

HB 4112  Burns:  Adds the right to SAVE A FAIR SHARE of the groundwater to property owners. Passed

HB 655 – Larson: Removes regulatory barriers to developing aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) projects in Texas. Passed

Potentially harmful for Hill Country Water Resources:
HB 1248 – Lucio III/SB 854 – Zaffirini: Addresses the length of time for which a groundwater withdrawal permit may be issued by a groundwater district. Requires GCD to renew or approve permits with certain provisions. Passed

HB 200 – Keefer: Revises the appeals process for the DFC providing additional TWDB oversight. Passed

HB 30 – Larson: Creates a system for managing brackish groundwater as a separate resource from other groundwater. Research is yet needed to determine the interplay between various levels of brackish groundwater and the most responsible way to manage this resource. Passed

Not so hot for Hill Country Water
HB 3298 – Larson / SB 1907 – Perry: Initiates the State Water Grid study. Stalled; unsure at this time how this story will end. An interim study is possible. See Ken Kramer’s op-ed.

SB 912 – Eltife: Exempts spills of 1000 gallons or less from reporting by wastewater treatment facilities. Passed

HB 2672 – Workman: Expands the power of the West Travis PUA to include eminent domain, expansion ability and rate setting by an appointed board of directors with very little public oversight. The House bill, without a Senate companion was left pending in Special Districts, dead.   Also see: HB 669 and SB 1121 – both dead.

HB 4038 – Workman: Creates a GCD in a small portion of West Travis County however significant areas are carved out and adequate funding is not included. No Senate companion, dead in the House.

HB 912 – Isaac: Limits the ability for local jurisdictions to protest potentially harmful wastewater permits. Targets Austin/Dripping Springs. Surprisingly passed through the House but was left pending in Senate Ag/Water/Rural.

HB 1402 – Nevarez / SB 552- Uresti: Creates the Coates Ranch MUD in Kinney County west of Brackettville. Concerns include potential groundwater export at levels that would affect springs in Kinney County as well as tributaries westward feeding the Devil’s River. Neither bill made it out of committee.

HB 3620 – Isaac: Affects the ability of landowners to participate in water quality protection programs. Could affect the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, land trusts are concerned. No Senate companion was filed; the bill died in House Land and Resource Management committee.

HB 3621 – Isaac: Allows a small city such as Dripping Springs to take Austin’s ETJ without Austin’s consent such that water-quality protection ordinances would no longer apply.  No Senate companion was filed; the bill died in House Land and Resource committee.

Public Participation and Contested Case Hearings:
A core Hill Country issue is unmanaged development that is occurring in the unincorporated areas. Wastewater plants, sand and gravel operations can be quite a problem for nearby landowner owners. Ideally we would love to see more county oversight of these issues. In the meantime, the Contested Case process is really the only way existing landowners have a way to protect their property values and try to negotiate permits that don’t damage or degrade neighbors.

HB 1865 – Morrison / SB 709 – Fraser: Transfers the burden of proof to the protesting landowner and alters the process to favor the permit applicant. The TCEQ Contested Case hearings process is already intimidating and financially challenging for most landowners. This legislation and others listed below move this issue in the wrong direction; more challenging for private land stewards, easier for the industrial project. Passed and signed by the Governor.

Drought Response:
Texas is facing unprecedented drought conditions. This bill helps local and state entities to be more knowledgeable, effective, and responsive.

SB 329 – Hinojosa / HB 928 – Guillen: Directs water suppliers and irrigation districts to review and, if necessary, update drought contingency plans every five years and requires significant providers of potable water to submit drought contingency plans and an evaluation of the effectiveness of strategies in the plan that were implemented by the supplier or district during any period of significant drought that occurred in the preceding five years.  This legislation was close to passing when an amendment related to state funding for the San Antonio Vista Ridge pipeline came out of nowhere the last day of the session ultimately killing the bill.

Water Conservation:
The most cost effective water supply strategy is water conservation. Directing funding, coordination and efficiency to water conservation is essential. These bills help:

HB 1902 – Howard / Isaac: Amends the Health and Safety Code to make graywater reuse more doable. Passed

SB 551 – Seliger: Requires a report by the Water Conservation Advisory Council to include recommendations to advance water conservation in Texas. Passed

Hill Country Rivers:
Groundwater emerges as springs that feed our life giving and iconic Hill Country Rivers. These bills are helpful for the protection and understanding of our fragile rivers.

HB 1016 – King: This legislation authored by Representative Tracy King along with Senators Carolos Uresti and Judith Zaffirini recognizes five Hill Country stream segments as having unique ecological values. They are the upper reaches of the Nueces, Frio and Sabinal rivers within Uvalde County, the Comal River at Comal Springs and the San Marcos River at San Marcos Springs. The South Central Texas Regional Water Planning Group (Region L), supported this initiative. According to Region L Chairman, Con Mims (Uvalde), “the law only prohibits a political subdivision from financing construction of reservoirs within the segments. But, more importantly, Region L believes the state’s recognition of these streams should elevate their visibility and encourage voluntary protection of their uniqueness by adjacent landowners, nearby communities, and visitors. We saw a small opportunity to protect their integrity and worked to achieve it.  We tried to pass this bill in the last Session, but time ran out and it died in committee.  This time, we were successful, thanks to King, Uresti and Zaffirini and their very capable staffs.”

SB 636 – Zaffirini: Establishes a Recreational River Use Task Force for the purpose of assessing the effects of recreational use of rivers on state and local economies, environmental health, and water quality, with a focus on areas of heavy recreational use. Referred to Natural Resources and Economic Development, never heard

SB 234 – Zaffirini – Creates the San Marcos River Rec District. Passed through the Senate and through House Special Districts, but never made it on the House Calendar.

HB 1290 – Keefer / SB 523 – Birdwell / Estes / Fraser / Kolkhorst / Perry: Subjects River Authorities to limited sunset review. While this bill provides much needed oversight for the State’s large river authorities such as the LCRA, it also had the potential to be overly burdensome and costly to small river authorities that have significantly less budget and far less responsibility over water resources.  Passed

HB 1655 – Bonnen along with Senator Lois Kolkhorst: This legislation requires that Texans who sell waterfront property must notify the buyer that the nearby body of water can fluctuate because of drought, flood or other issues related to water rights. “The droughts and floods along the Colorado River and across Texas have created a problem for property owners that must be addressed,” Kolkhorst said in a release. “Prospective home and business owners who are looking to purchase waterfront property are often unaware that the body of water near their property may not always offer a scenic view or recreational opportunities due to water level fluctuation…The droughts and floods across Texas are a reminder that many reservoirs in Texas are not constant-level . This bill makes sure that property buyers and sellers are on the same page before the contract is signed.” Passed

Good for Land Conservation and Parks:
SB 1597 – Kolkorst / HB 1925 Geren: Relocates the valuable Texas Farm and Ranchland Program to Texas Parks and Wildlife. Passed

HB 158 – Larson, Keffer, Smith, Guillen, Kacal: Allocates State sporting goods tax to Texas Parks and Wildlife. Passed and signed by the Governor

Makes sense for Transportation Planning:
SB 1032 – Watson / Isreal:  Makes it easier for state employees to telecommute, greatly reducing rush hour traffic without costing taxpayers a dime. This is the kind of strategy that will ultimately improve regional transportation – we’ll never build enough roads. Passed

Problematic for Scenic Highways:
HB 1863 – Paddie/SB 1924: Eltife: Mandates a TxDOT “landscape management program” that will allow billboard companies and any other business along the public highway the right to trim and remove seedlings, saplings, trees, and vegetation on public property for “suitable visibility.”  No Senate committee hearing at all and left pending in House Transportation committee, died.

Municipal Utility Districts (MUD’s) 
This is not a complete list; numerous MUD and Special District legislation passed, particularly in Hays County:

Isaac/Campbell: HB 4214/ SB 2074 – Legacy MUD #1 (781 acres along still-beautiful part of FM 967)

Isaac/Campbell: HB 2259 / SB None – Driftwood Economic Development Municipal Management District (Salt Lick area)

Isaac/Campbell: HB 4183/ SB 2072 – Hays County MUD No. 7

Isaac/Campbell: HB 4184/ SB 2073 – Hays County Development District No. 1  (Caliterra at RR 12/FR 150 HUGE)

Isaac/Campbell: HB 4185/ SB 2070 – Headwaters MUD (Dripping Springs)

Isaac/Zaffirini:   HB 1372/ SB 305 – Cotton Center MUD No. 1

Isaac/Zaffirini: HB  2401 – Crosswinds MUD

Isaac/Campbell: SB 2075 – Relaxes Needmore Ranch to allow them Trinity groundwater use

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