The Texas Legislature should consider establishing a program providing grants to water authorities and major water users to help them achieve meaningful increases in water efficiency due to conservation activities.
This program would award grants to local water authorities, including cities, counties, river authorities, water conservation districts, municipal water utilities, municipal utility districts, irrigation districts and water supply corporations, as well as major industrial water users, for improved water efficiency, particularly verifiable reductions in total annual water use driven by conservation efforts.
Efforts could include water reuse and reductions in water loss due to infrastructure improvements.
The program should consider both the percentage and volume of water reduction, to ensure that it can recognize the efforts of both small and large entities.
The Legislature should consider setting aside $25 million for this grant program, to be distributed over a five-year period, with a maximum of $10 million in grants awarded in any one year.
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) should set appropriate targets for water efficiency. Its advisory board could assist and oversee the establishment of these targets.
Grant funds could be spent at local discretion so long as they are used for water and wastewater projects.
To further encourage efficiency, the Legislature should consider revising the way that water infrastructure projects — especially those using SWIFT funding — are financed with a goal of making these projects more reactive to drought conditions. This should encourage municipalities to more readily implement drought plans.
The Texas Legislature should consider increasing state funding for innovative demonstration projects.
The major barrier to more widespread adoption of new water technology is cost. Thus cost reduction should be the goal of sustained, state-supported research.
Demonstration projects are vital to the widespread adoption of any innovative technology. Water planners need to know the risks of embracing new technologies; demonstration projects help planners make informed decisions.
TWDB has grant programs for research, but their expenditures are relatively small. Inadequate investment in demonstration projects will be an obstacle in any effort to scale up innovative technologies that could ultimately help make water more affordable.
The Texas Legislature should consider establishing a prize framework to award research dollars for successful achievements in innovative technology.
A prize structure for technologies should be awarded for innovations with direct and demonstrable commercial applications in Texas.
A prize program should be funded with $25 million in state funds. The program should be structured carefully, providing specific, realistic objectives in price reduction.
According to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, of $528 million in research and development expenditures at our four-year universities in fiscal year 2012, only $28.7 million went to water-related issues.
Prizes would be awarded for the successful achievement of milestones along the way to the ultimate goal: a price point for water as close as possible to the production cost of fresh groundwater, surface water or reclaimed water.