Texas Water Development Board adopts rules for SWIFT November 2014

Almost exactly one year ago, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT. Introduced by the 83rd Texas Legislature during the 2013 legislative session, SWIFT enabled the one-time investment of $2 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund to provide low-cost loans for water projects in Texas. Additionally, the legislature called for at least 20 percent of SWIFT to be reserved for conservation and reuse projects and at least 10 percent to be reserved for rural and agricultural projects.

On November 6, 2014, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) adopted a set of rules needed for fully implementing SWIFT in the lone star state. These rules will determine how projects eligible for SWIFT will be prioritized for funding. Now that the rules are official, public water providers are encouraged to submit an abridged application as the first step to receiving funding.

"Due to the vision of the legislature and Texans' overwhelming approval of the creation of this critical fund, today was a historic step for Texas," said TWDB Chairman Carlos Rubinstein. "Now, SWIFT will ensure enhanced financing will be available to fund projects that our state needs to continue to grow and thrive."

The abridged application will allow the TWDB to evaluate and rank projects for SWIFT and is due by February 3, 2015. If a project meets the minimum requirements, such as being in the 2012 State Water Plan, it will be ranked according to the adopted rules. Consideration will be given to projects that, for example, serve a diverse urban and rural population or meet a high percentage of water needs. Additionally, the prioritization of projects by the 16 regional water planning groups will be another criterion in the TWDB's ranking process.

"The passage of Senate Bill 1 in 1997 provided the bottoms-up approach to state water planning that has become a model for other states," said TWDB Board member Bech Bruun. "The adoption of final rules for SWIFT signifies a move toward implementation while still giving deference to the vital involvement of regional water planning groups."

The second step in the application process is for applicants whose projects rank highly enough from the prioritization process. Those sponsors will need to submit a full application that requires more detailed information. The full application will receive environmental, engineering, financial, and legal reviews from the TWDB staff.

The TWDB will solicit applications up to two times each year, subject to fund availability. It is expected that SWIFT will provide approximately $800 million in financial assistance each year in the first 10 years. Projects selected for funding will be monitored by the TWDB staff during the construction phase and for the life of the loan to ensure they are successful and the terms of the loan are fulfilled.

"After years of identifying the projects and strategies that could give Texas a sustainable water supply, we will finally be able to give communities the cost-effective financial assistance they need," said TWDB Board member Kathleen Jackson. "Once again, Texas is leading the way to provide for future generations of Texans."

Projects such as seawater and brackish water desalination, direct reuse, pipelines, reservoirs, and aquifer storage and recovery are all projects on the table for funding.

Ahead of the legislatively mandated schedule by approximately four months, the TWDB expects to start cutting checks for water projects funded by SWIFT in the fall of 2015.