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The Q&A: Bech Bruun

In this week's Q&A, we interview Bech Bruun, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board.

Bech Bruun has served as a member of the Texas Water Development Board since September 1, 2013. Governor Greg Abbott designated him chairman in June 2015.

With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:

Bech Bruun is the chairman of the Texas Water Development Board. Bruun recently published a commentary in the Texas Water Journal about regional water planning that you can read here.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Water: How has the regional water planning process evolved over the years?

Bech Bruun: The main point in time where there was a significant transition, you can trace back to the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 1997. That legislation is what put in place the current 16 regional water planning groups.

It also put in place a five-year cycle for how we prepare new state water plans. We began the first in 2002. We recently adopted the 2017 water plan and it’s what we would refer to as the fourth version of that five-year planning cycle.

Trib+Water: What, if any, changes have there been since the plan first began?

Bruun: To put some of the numbers from the new plan into context, the last plan in 2012 represented roughly 3,750 water management strategies. The 2017 plan represents roughly 5,500 water management strategies, a significant increase.

Trib+Water: Tell me about the findings you highlight in your recent commentary in the (Texas) Water Journal.

Bruun: We felt like it was timely to take a look back and highlight parts of the process we think have been successful and identify areas that could be improved moving forward. The newest plan is the fourth version of our state water plan since we embraced the bottom-up approach that first began in 1997. 

Trib+Water: What is working with the current regional water planning system?

Bruun: Generally speaking, the bottom-up approach that Texas is using is a good approach. That process of a state plan first originating with regional stakeholder input creates a more comprehensive statewide plan.

Those decisions and the funding are finalized at the local level. The state plays an important role in overseeing and guiding the process, but the general feeling is that local stakeholders have a better understanding of their own needs moving forward.

Trib+Water: What are the challenges involved with the current system of regional water planning?

Bruun: The plan continues to require tremendous financial costs. The cost of developing water systems continues to increase. The total estimated capital cost of the 2017 state water plan is $63 billion. That’s up from $55.6 billion in the 2012 plan.

The new plan reflects substantial increases in our state population. It speaks to population growth and the associated water demands. Since more people are moving to Texas, we are going to need more water to fulfill those future demands.

Trib+Water: How is any friction between local decision-making bodies addressed?

Bruun: There have been in the past disputes between the 16 regions. The most recent dispute was over a reservoir project in the 2012 plan between regions C and D. That dispute was resolved by the board.

There is a process in place for the board to resolve disputes when they occur. Typically, we encourage those disputes to be worked out between regions without intervention. Historically, that happens. There were no disputes the board needed to manage in the 2017 plan.

Trib+Water: What are the requirements for the successful development of a coherent credible state water plan?

Bruun: The regional approach works well. A regular five-year cycle helps us take a fresh look. A lot can change in five years. Just look at 2011, everything changed in that one year. Keeping up with evolving science, as it relates to what we understand about surface water and groundwater availability, is important.

Since 1997, the state has supported this process through the preparation of adequate funds. That’s an important aspect as well. The state is continuing to pay effectively for the plan to be developed on a rolling basis. It’s also a strong signal to the rest of the country that our state is practically planning for our future water development in ways other states are not.

Trib+Water: What do you expect from the 85th Texas legislative session?

Bruun: Our hope and goal is to make sure, despite what is seen as a tight budget cycle, we will be able to justify and maintain funding for our current programs.

All agencies have been asked to produce a budget request that shows some cuts. We have done that. However, we hope at the end of the day the importance of the work that’s being done over here will be viewed as such that we will be able to sustain our current funding levels.

Trib+Water: What’s your takeaway from looking back at the last two decades of regional water planning?

Big picture: we should be proud of the process, especially of the new 2017 state water plan.

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