AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As communities across Texas prepare for early voting for the Nov. 7 election to begin on Monday, experts from across the board, including the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts, are working to spread the word about constitutional amendments on the ballot that they say could impact the state for generations.
For the TPWD, Proposition 14 on the November ballot could grant long-term funding for new park land purchases and development. For the TAGD and the Texas Water Development Board, Proposition 6 could mean an unprecedented investment in water infrastructure to serve as “a robust down payment” on Texas’ future.
Proposition 14: The Centennial Parks Conservation Fund
According to the TPWD, Proposition 14 would create the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund, allocating $1 billion from the state government surplus to acquire and develop new state parks across Texas. It would not create a new tax for Texans, said the TPWD, and would be the largest investment in parks in the state’s history.
This comes as 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of Texas State Parks, noted the TPWD. The Lone Star State currently hosts 89 parks, natural areas and historic sites, visited by nearly 10 million people every year.
Texas State Parks provide an opportunity for Texans to spend time outside fishing, strolling or sleeping under the stars, said the department, in a state where less than five percent of the land is open for public enjoyment.
If the proposition does not pass, the TPWD said it will continue its efforts to acquire and develop state parks through a mix of conservation funds, stakeholder partnerships and specifically authorized state and federal appropriations.
Proposition 6: The Texas Water Fund and New Water Supply Fund
As explained by the TAGD, Texas lawmakers recently passed Senate Bill 28 and the associated Senate Joint Resolution 75 during the 88th regular legislative session to create the Texas Water Fund and New Water Supply Fund. However, the creation of those funds will depend on whether or not Texas voters approve them in November.
According to the TAGD, Proposition 6 will create the Texas Water Fund and appropriate $1 billion from the state’s general revenue fund, to be administered by the TWDB to finance water projects across the state.
This proposition comes as drought conditions across Texas have brought renewed attention to water supply issues that have dogged the state throughout its long history. Since the beginning of its most recent long-term drought in 2021, Texas has seen record-breaking heat, devastating wildfires, and deadly storms and flooding over dry-packed ground that have impacted communities in every area of the state.
As previously reported on MyHighPlains.com, the drought also brought renewed attention to the dire condition of groundwater supplies across Texas – particularly in the High Plains region, which depends nearly entirely on the support of the Ogallala Aquifer. However, the aquifer is in an active state of decline, with the Environmental Defense Fund reporting it is being drained at 6.5 times its sustainable rate. Around the rest of Texas, groundwater is being lost at nearly twice its maximum sustained rate.
In some areas of the High Plains, this has already resulted in some wells running dry for families and communities, with little confidence that the groundwater supply will last beyond the next generation. Meanwhile, the water levels in other major water districts and aquifers in Texas have also continued to plunge.
Aboveground, the outlook of Texas water supplies isn’t much better. As noted by the 2022 State Water Plan, Texas is expected to grow in population by more than 73% by 2070 – when most of the Ogallala is expected to be gone – and its water supply demands will cost an additional $80 billion from its current needs. Further, the TAGD also noted that Texas continues to struggle with aging water infrastructure that results in the leaking waste of more than 572,000 acre-feet of water per year. Experts around the state have also continued to work on Texas water issues ranging from drying rivers, flooding, wastewater and stormwater needs related to both water supply and water quality.
During the 2022 Texas Groundwater Summit, Texas Senator Sarah Eckhardt of District 14 said that water supply quality and funding was of paramount importance to the state, and noted that “Failure is really life and death.”
Since that time, Texas not only published its 2022 State Water Plan, but also saw record attendance at the 2023 Texas Groundwater Summit, an overview from the Texas Comptroller’s Office of Texas’s present and future water needs, and the expansion of state floodplain mapping alongside the recently-passed funding legislation. The TPWD also began drafting its 2023 Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan, highlighting the overlap between water and environmental planning and conservation efforts for both the TPWD and the TWDB.
However, with steep needs for resources and continued extreme conditions around the state, Texas and its water strategies still have a long road ahead.
The funding that could be granted through Proposition 6, as noted by the Comptroller’s Office, could assist in advancing projects including those focused on desalination, produced water treatment, aquifer storage and recovery, and water transportation infrastructure. These projects could mean the difference in how much water the next generation of Texans have available for life and economy, and from where.
However, whether or not the amendment will pass in November remains to be seen. As Texas continues to strategize how it will continue to exist and grow for future generations, departments and experts such as those from the TPWD and the TWDB said they will also continue to work to promote the conservation and sustainability of land and water resources across the Lone Star State.
More information on the upcoming November ballots can be found here.