With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
Greg Flores is vice president of state legislative affairs for the San Antonio Water System, also called SAWS. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University and a Master of Public Affairs degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to joining SAWS, Flores worked as director of legislative affairs for H-E-B. He currently serves on the boards of the Free Trade Alliance, the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is a board director of the Texas Lyceum.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: What is the latest with the San Antonio Water System?
Greg Flores: After signing a contract late last year for San Antonio’s largest non-Edwards Aquifer water supply, we’ve begun our work with the Vista Ridge Consortium, designing and building a 142-mile pipeline from Burleson County to San Antonio. This project is a great example, we think, of Texan helping Texan. This water will help ensure future economic prosperity — at today’s prices — for many generations to come. That is very important work. Making sure that this project is successfully built and can successfully move water from one part of the state that has it in abundance to another part of the state that needs it.
Trib+Water: What are the other main water issues that we can expect this year?
Flores: There are two issues that will continue to be big in 2015. The first, as I mentioned, is water supply for the future of our growing state. It is the most basic element of infrastructure that is needed to sustain the growth of our state. To the extent that the Legislature can help to make new water supplies and diverse water supplies available to the state of Texas and to the communities around the state of Texas, then I think this will be a great session.
The second issue to be tackled in 2015 is the replacement of aging infrastructure. That really also falls on a lot of local entities. Water and wastewater pipes, for example, are growing older every year and they need to be replaced, no matter what part of the state you are in. Both of these issues, supply as well aging infrastructure, will require significant public investment in order to be solved. I think those are two big issues related to water that will have to be tackled in 2015 and beyond.
Trib+Water: What water policy do you expect from this legislative session?
Flores: Every session we tend to make a little bit of progress at a time. This session, fortunately, consensus across numerous stakeholders has been built around two legislative proposals. The first is the administrative renewals of groundwater permits through a proposal that will be put forth by the Texas Water Conservation Association, TWCA, that balances the need for long-term certainty in groundwater permitting, with the recognition of private property rights and local control of the groundwater conservation districts.
The second proposal is the encouragement of the development of aquifer storage and recovery facilities in Texas, or ASR facilities, in order to provide a future alternative water supply solution. Again, while recognizing local control of groundwater districts. These two water policy issues do have consensus across a broad spectrum of water stakeholders going into this legislative session.
Trib+Water: Does water policy seem like a less decisive issue in the Legislature than other policy they might tackle?
Flores: No, part of it is that last session was a real struggle trying to come up with solutions that everyone could support, as it always is. It is hard to make everyone happy at the same time. The TWCA was tasked by a number of legislators to use the interim period to try to build some consensus around these issues. That is what has been done, and that is what we will be supporting, these consensus proposals around water policy.
Trib+Water: What is SAWS' legislative agenda for this session?
Flores: I think it is important that we achieve the ability to have long-term certainty in terms of water supplies and, in particular, groundwater supplies that are permitted by a groundwater district, while at the same time recognizing private property rights and the ability of groundwater conservation districts to maintain local control of that supply.
Municipalities have every interest in maintaining a sustainable supply of water from a groundwater source, and we want to make sure that the supply will last for generations. Our interests align very well with that of the groundwater conservation districts, which hope to regulate the withdrawal of water in their regulated aquifers so that the supply is sustained over generations to come.
Trib+Water: What might stand in the way of having policies solve those two major issues?
Flores: The legislative session is never easy. There is always diverse positions on any issue, valid positions, so there is always a struggle to make as many interests happy as possible when attempting to pass legislation. Fortunately, a lot of that work has been done over the interim, and there is consensus on a few legislative water proposals. We hope that it will not be as big of a struggle as it has been in the past to move some of these proposals forward.
Nothing is ever easy, and we will work hard along with everyone else to move something positive forward for as many stakeholders as possible.
Trib+Water: Who are the key people to watch?
Flores: Everyone will be watching the appointment process of the the new chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. Obviously, the speaker of the House has that appointment to make, and that new chair will replace Chairman Allan Ritter, who was a great chairman. That will be someone who is watched closely. Also, all eyes will be on the lieutenant governor to see if Sen. Troy Fraser will be reappointed as chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. Those chair positions in both chambers are going to be very important and key people to watch.