60 Years of the TWDB November 2017
By Chairman Bech Bruun
In November, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is celebrating our 60th anniversary. The Texas Legislature created the agency in the aftermath of the state's worst recorded drought, occurring from 1950 to 1957, to help provide Texas with reliable water supplies. That charge has endured as the agency's core mission.
By the time the drought of the `50s ended, all but 10 of Texas' 254 counties had been declared federal disaster areas, and state leaders recognized the need to address water policy and planning to ensure a positive future for Texans. The legislature and Texas voters also grasped the need to fund water conservation and supply projects and subsequently authorized $200 million in state bonds for those projects. The Texas Water Development Board was created to administer these funds.
Our responsibilities have evolved over the years to include water planning, science, geographic information services, and flood—areas through which we continue to remain focused on meeting the needs of Texans and their communities. Our accomplishments in these first 60 years are too numerous to describe in detail, but I've listed below a few highlights to celebrate this special anniversary.
As the state water agencies were aligned and realigned in the late 1950s and early 1960s, water planning shifted between agencies. The Board of Water Engineers developed the first statewide water plan in 1961. In 1965, however, the 59th Texas Legislature assigned to the TWDB the responsibility for comprehensive statewide water planning, and it has remained with us ever since:
- We produced our first state water plan in 1968 to meet water needs through 2020.
- We developed subsequent statewide water plans in 1984, 1990, 1992, and 1997, each with 50-year planning horizons.
- In 1997, the Texas Legislature changed how Texas plans for water supply by creating a new bottom-up, regional water planning process based on 16 self-governing planning groups representing 16 regional water planning areas. Each planning group was required to prepare its own regional water plan on five-year cycles.
- The 2002 State Water Plan was the first plan produced using the regional planning process and was followed by the 2007, 2012, and 2017 plans.
Our low-interest loans and principal forgiveness help communities and water providers throughout the state bring their projects to life. We’ve been busy funding projects since our very first project in 1959 to construct the Wesley E. Seale Dam on the Nueces River creating the Lake Corpus Christi reservoir.
Our financial assistance portfolio has grown significantly in our first 60 years:
- We have committed more than $24.4 billion to communities for water and wastewater projects.
- We introduced the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to our portfolio of financial assistance programs in 1987. In its 30 years, the program has committed more than $8.3 billion for wastewater, stormwater, reuse, and other pollution control projects.
- The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), established in 1996, assists communities by providing low-cost financing for water projects that facilitate compliance with drinking water standards. We have committed approximately $2.5 billion for DWSRF projects across Texas.
- In 1989, the 71st Texas Legislature and voters passed legislation and amendments establishing the Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP). EDAP has committed more than $857 million in grants and loans for water and wastewater projects in economically distressed areas where service is unavailable or inadequate.
- The legislature created the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) program* in 2013, and has already committed approximately $5.7 billion in financial assistance for state water plan projects in its first three cycles. The program has been extremely successful—in fact, our first SWIFT transaction in 2015 received the Bond Buyer's Southwest Region Deal of the Year award.
Water science and conservation
Our efforts in groundwater are truly making a difference for Texas:
- The TWDB began the groundwater level observation program in 1957, and 60 years later, we measure or receive measurements from nearly 500 wells each year. In the 1980s, the TWDB Groundwater Database was developed as a holding place for these measurements; it now contains records on more than 140,000 wells and 2,000 springs.
- In 1999, the TWDB began developing a groundwater availability model to help regional water planners assess how much groundwater was in a portion of the Trinity Aquifer. Largely due to the success of that model, in 2001 the Texas Legislature provided funding for the TWDB to develop additional models for the state's aquifers and TWDB's Groundwater Availability Modeling program began in earnest.
And our Surface Water program is equally as important and impressive:
- The TWDB has been at the center of developing environmental flows science for 50 years. The effort began in 1967 when, to support the development of a state water plan, our predecessor agency created the Bays and Estuaries program to study the role of freshwater inflows on bay ecology. In 2001, the legislature created the Texas Instream Flows program to study instream flow needs of Texas rivers, and in 2007, they created an expedited process for establishing environmental flow standards for rivers and freshwater estuaries.
- In 1991, the Texas Legislature created the Hydrographic Survey program at the TWDB to provide information on reservoir storage capacity. To date, 178 surveys are complete.
Texas leads the charge on studying and developing solutions such as desalination, aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), and reuse to help create additional water supplies. We are proud to be at the forefront of these innovative areas:
- In 2009, the legislature created the Brackish Resources Aquifer Characterization System at the TWDB, and we commenced studying specific aquifers.
- We have provided funding for several ASR facilities and studies, including the Kerrville and San Antonio ASR plants which became operational in 1998 and 2004, respectively.
- We completed 13 water reuse studies between 1988 and 2015 and in 2016 completed a project that tested water quality at Texas' first direct potable reuse facility.
Effective water conservation strategies can also help meet the projected water supply needs. For more than 30 years the TWDB has provided services and planning support to help Texans establish and manage conservation programs; our efforts include the following:
- In 1985, the Texas Legislature created the Agricultural Water Conservation Program at the TWDB. Since then, we have committed more than $100 million in loans, grants, and funding transfers to improve agricultural water use efficiency and further water conservation in the state.
- In 2003, the legislature began requiring that public utilities submit water loss audits to the TWDB. In 2007, the legislature added an additional requirement that public utilities with more than 3,300 connections submit water conservation plans and annual reports to us.
Geospatial data services
In 1972, the Texas Natural Resources Information System (TNRIS) was created within the TWDB, incorporating a centralized repository and clearinghouse of maps, census information, and water-related information. TNRIS manages a comprehensive catalogue of all types of geographic data for Texas and is an excellent resource.
- One of the most successful programs in TNRIS is the Strategic Mapping (StratMap) program, established in 1997 to acquire and improve digital geographic data for statewide mapping applications.
- TNRIS has the largest working historical photo archive in the state that dates back to the 1920s.
- Additionally, TNRIS provides mapping assistance during flooding events and other emergencies—most recently Hurricane Harvey.
As it does with drought, Texas also has a longstanding history with flood. The TWDB supports the state with flood mitigation, planning, and response through a number of ways:
- In 2007, the TWDB became the state coordinating office for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and we administer FEMA's annual Flood Mitigation Assistance grant program for Texas and offer a state flood grant for early warning, response, and planning.
- In 2015, $6.8 million from the Disaster Contingency Account was transferred to the TWDB to expand the state's streamgage network and provide additional technical assistance and outreach for floodplain management and planning.
- To put critical information into the hands of Texans, the TWDB launched TexasFlood.org in 2016. The website links to the Flood Viewer, which tracks flood conditions by monitoring streamgages, weather radar, and weather warnings. All data are displayed on a web-based interactive map for Texans on the go. It also links to our recently created earth observation network, the TexMesonet.
This is just a brief glimpse into some of our agency's accomplishments during the last 60 years—no doubt there are countless others. Needless to say, I am extremely proud to be part of the TWDB; our staff has always been forward thinking, thorough, and committed to Texas' water-related interests. I attribute our success to all the brilliant men and women on our staff (past and present), the support and leadership of the legislature, and Texas communities and citizens for making water a priority. Here's to 60 more years of the Texas Water Development Board and to continuing our legacy to provide a reliable water supply for the Lone Star State!
* The SWIFT program includes two funds, the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas (SWIRFT). Revenue bonds for the program are issued through SWIRFT.