With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
Kyle Frazier is executive director of the Texas Desalination Association, which was formed in late 2012. A lobbyist, Frazier works on behalf of the association's members and has also worked on issues such as health care, alcohol, oil and gas, and taxes.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: How does working on desal compare with other issues that you lobby on or have worked on in the past?
Kyle Frazier: I've had everybody get really interested in stuff, but it's almost always been negative ... payday lending, or they're coming after cigarettes, and you spend all your time in defense mode. This is the first time I've ever been involved in an issue where suddenly everybody goes, "Oh gosh, that's interesting. Let's look at that." ... It never happens like this.
Everybody seems interested in this. And that's not usually the case. Usually, you have to go build interest in somebody. ... I've never seen anything pop like this, and I think it's just because of the nature of the problem. Suddenly, praying for rain is not a water plan. And unfortunately, I think that's been our water plan for a long time.
Trib+Water: Desal does seem to be a departure from your past and other current work. How did you become interested in it?
Frazier: It is a departure. What caught my attention was the stories about the rice farmers not getting their water allocation [in 2011] ... that had never happened before. That, along with the fires, all got my attention. At first blush, you can't really create water. But with desalination technology, you can create water or, at least, water that you hadn't been able to use before.
The state has looked at it at different times, but they've never really put any emphasis on it because it's rained. The need really hasn't been there. 2011 is what changed that.
Trib+Water: So much interest in desal, but even today in the State Water Plan, it provides so little of the state's water. How do you increase that?
Frazier: The thing that's unique about the water plan is, it does give communities flexibility. And they can move some of these projects forward. And I think that's exactly what you're going to see happen ... unique ways to address the water issue outside of what their normal consideration has always been.
Brackish water is scattered around the state, and it's actually pretty prevalent around the state. We don't know a lot about it, other than it's down there and it's salty, and so that's a problem ... hopefully the Legislature will take a serious look at it.
Trib+Water: What are you going to be looking to accomplish in the next legislative session?
Frazier: Up until recently, brackish water has not been considered a groundwater asset ... so where it fits in groundwater law is a question. As an example, one of the driving costs in desal is power. So what we've talked about is "co-locating" the desal plant with the power generator. You're going to cut your costs because the power's right there. The bad news is, to build a power plant, you have to have financing, and to get financing, you have to have water permits that last longer than three to five years, which is typically what a groundwater district is offering. So that problem has to be overcome.
Defining brackish groundwater, that's stickier than you would think. I thought either it is or it isn't, but that's not the case at all. It's much more complicated. But I think there are some solutions there that everybody can live with.
Trib+Water: What have you learned during your lobbying career that can help inform you on the issue?
Frazier: Years and years ago, industries and varied interests could cleverly get things through without other people noticing it. And those days have really changed. Technology-wise, it's very difficult to do that. You can't introduce 500-page bills the last day of the session and pass it.
And so, where I have found the most success is ... you start literally the day the session's over. Begin working on the next session. Bring all the interested parties in, and you try to work out as much of the details as you can. If you're going to pass something significant that has some impact, then you'd better sit down with all the interested parties that you can come up with early on, and try to come up with as many details as you can.
And you're not going to please everybody. ... We've got the groundwater districts, we've got the property owners, which oftentimes may not necessarily agree with the groundwater district. And then we've got folks coming in who want to utilize that asset. And getting all those folks on the same page is a challenge. The difference is that everybody seems to understand that we don't have any choice. You can either continue to deplete the freshwater aquifer, or you can make use of this other untapped resource.