With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
Ken Kramer, a water policy expert for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, spent more than 23 years as the organization’s first director before retiring in 2012. Prior to that, he served as the lobbyist for the chapter. With the next legislative session approaching, the Tribune asked Kramer what to expect from lawmakers. The conversation also touched on his thoughts on rules the Texas Water Development Board finalized earlier this month, which set parameters for how the board distributes funds from the voter-approved $2 billion revolving account to finance water projects.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: What do you think of the rules that were approved earlier this month for the fund? Do you think they will be fair and effective?
Ken Kramer: I think so. I think the rules are pretty flexible. They provide a good framework for the implementation of the new water funding mechanism. A lot will depend on how they are actually put to practice, because many of the decisions about how the funds are going to be used are still going to be done on a case-by-case basis. So it will take awhile before we can determine exactly how effective the rules are.
Trib+Water: What kind of communities do you think are going to be applying for and qualifying for these funds?
Kramer: Well, that remains to be seen. I think traditionally the water development board has gotten a lot of financial assessment applications from small to medium-size cities and water districts and utilities. They have funded some of the major cities in the state, but a lot of times the major cities have the financial resources and are able to go to the private bond market to get funding for their projects.
To some extent, I think it’ll be interesting to see whether or not some of the major water utilities feel that the new type of water development board funding provided through SWIFT [State Water Implementation Fund for Texas] will actually be a benefit to them.
Trib+Water: We got a legislative session coming up soon — what do you think of the bills that have been filed so far that relate to water?
Kramer: Well, most of them are basically pieces of legislation or ideas that we’ve seen before. I think there will be some additional legislation that will resurrect some of the issues from past sessions, especially on groundwater. There were a lot of groundwater issues that were left unresolved at the end of the 2013 session, especially with regard to development, brackish groundwater resources … so I think we’ll see some pretty substantial legislation on those issues. They still remain a little bit controversial.
Trib+Water: What do you expect to come out of the session, when it is all said and done?
Kramer: Well, obviously in the Texas Senate, we have some new leadership and we’re probably going to have some new committee leaders. Most of those folks, most of the new leaders, haven’t been involved in water issues. I anticipate that we’ll see some progress, if you will, on groundwater legislation this time, especially with regard to how brackish groundwater resources are handled and how aquifer storage and recovery projects are pursued.
I hope we will also see some additional funding … to be able to do more scientific research about groundwater resources in Texas, especially brackish aquifers. We really need more information to be able to make some responsible decisions about groundwater in Texas.