With Texas Reservoirs Dropping, State Lawmakers Kill a Water Supply Bill

Last night, a bill to fund water projects across the state died an ignominious death in the Texas House of Representatives. This was strange because it looked like the rails had been thoroughly greased. During his State of the State back in January, Gov. Rick Perry made the case for dipping into the normally sacrosanct Rainy Day Fund to the tune of $2 billion for water infrastructure projects -- a move he characterized as vital for attracting businesses to the state.

"What I am proposing will support critical water and transportation systems across our state, addresses our needs both short- and long-term, and ensures both water and traffic will continue to flow in Texas for generations to come," he said at the time.

Yet it came under attack from all sides. Spending fetishists in the Tea Party wing couldn't support it, even though a water crisis could have serious implications for the state's tax base. Democrats wouldn't back it unless it came with increased education spending from the Rainy Day Fund. Republicans threatened sweeping budget cuts if enough votes weren't mustered to pull from the fund. Amendments and points of order were heaped onto the bill until finally it all collapsed.

It can be brought back through committee to the floor for another vote, but there may not be enough time. Perry has threatened to call the legislature into special session if the bill doesn't cross his desk. This map, released yesterday by the Texas Water Development Board, explains why. With 99 percent of the state currently in drought, municipal reservoirs are in rough shape. Statewide, they're 66 percent full. Fort Worth's municipal reservoir system is at its lowest level since they started tracking these numbers in 1990. More than half of the municipal systems are below 50 percent full. In south and west Texas, the picture is particularly grim. In the panhandle, the system serving Amarillo was logged as empty yesterday.

Demographers project the state's population will increase more than 80 percent by 2050. In a state currently stringing together some of the driest years it's ever recorded, it's becoming increasingly clear that current water supplies won't be enough for future generations.

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Brantley Hargrove