The State of Water January 2018
Just like that, another year in the books. And what an eventful year it was! 2017 was full of numerous financial, scientific, and other water accomplishments at the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). But we also spent a lot of time wrestling with Mother Nature and the perpetual contrast of too much water and too little water: flood and drought. For many Texans, one natural disaster in particular may forever define the year 2017.
The devastation of Hurricane Harvey reminded us how crucial flood preparedness, mitigation, and response are to communities. TWDB flood programs are a year-round priority, but Harvey amplified the ongoing efforts of our staff. In response to Harvey, our Flood Mitigation Planning staff made over 500 phone contacts with community representatives and individuals. Additionally, they met in person with individuals and officials from over 20 communities in affected areas and taught webinars providing valuable information on disaster recovery.
To assist affected communities with urgent financial needs, the TWDB amended two of its programs to offer $90 million in special assistance for disaster recovery. We allocated both zero-interest loans and loan forgiveness in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for stormwater, wastewater, and water supply projects. This enhanced funding is available now for communities suffering from disasters and other emergency situations.
In times of emergency, current data and map imagery supply critical information for decision makers. During Hurricane Harvey, our Texas Natural Resources Information System (TNRIS) staff provided mapping, GIS analysis, and flood inundation modeling assistance onsite at the State Operations Center. Following the disaster, TNRIS staff continued to assist by providing aerial imagery and data to the SOC, other state agencies, and the affected communities—a real example of our mapping and data expertise in action.
The TWDB acquires this important imagery through TNRIS' Strategic Mapping Program (StratMap). TNRIS manages all of the state's GIS contracts through StratMap. Of approximately $5 million in purchases through the program in Fiscal Year 2017, the TWDB administered projects totaling $3.4 million for orthoimagery (aerial images corrected to a map scale) and LiDAR elevation data (topographical information collected through lasers).
The flood and emergency mitigation, planning, and response momentum will continue into 2018. TNRIS is currently working with the University of Texas at Austin with funding from the Texas Division of Emergency Management to develop and maintain a statewide address point database. This comprehensive address database will assist emergency 9-1-1 communications by providing statewide coverage no matter where a 9-1-1 call is placed. When completed, this database will ultimately become part of a nationwide network of address points to support 9-1-1 response.
Another highly anticipated project in 2018 is the first state flood plan for Texas. Developed by the TWDB, the plan will take a broad look at flood risks across the state and provide an initial assessment of the costs associated with reducing those risks. It will also provide information and policy recommendations for decision makers to use in developing an approach to comprehensive flood management in Texas.
We will also expand our efforts to address the state's vulnerability to flood by deploying new flood gages; providing grant funds to communities to increase flood resilience; working with the National Weather Service to improve flood forecasting models; and further developing TexasFlood.org. We're looking forward to the continued expansion of the TexMesonet, an earth observation data collection network developed to support flood monitoring and forecasting efforts as well as monitoring for drought, wildfire, and irrigation purposes. We anticipate installing additional stations across the state in 2018.
Because history has shown that drought, like flood, always lurks just around the corner in Texas, our need to prepare is ever present. The data we collect through our science programs contribute important information that helps advance knowledge of the state's water resources. Brackish (saline) groundwater is becoming an important water source that can help reduce the demand on fresh water supplies, but a deep understanding of it is necessary before determining whether it can be used. Through our Brackish Resources Aquifer Characterization System (BRACS) program, we designated eight groundwater production zones in three aquifer systems (the Carrizo-Wilcox, the Gulf Coast, and the Rustler) and completed four brackish aquifer studies (Blossom, Nacatoch, Trinity, and Lipan) in 2017.
Improving the availability of water resources information is an ongoing initiative. That's why our studies and reports can all be found on our website and many of the resources we offer are interactive—and continuously evolving to benefit the public. For example, we added geographic locations for water sources and recommended water projects to our Interactive State Water Plan site. In 2018, we will also be adding more information on water projects and strategies.
Over the next year we'll be refining our seasonal rainfall forecast tool, making more drought tools and information accessible through WaterDataforTexas.org, and sharing the latest on drought conditions through the agency's Water Weekly report.
And as we have been for 60 years, we were also busy in 2017 helping communities achieve their water project goals. Across our various financial assistance programs, the TWDB committed $1.9 billion for water and wastewater projects last year. Of this amount, more than $1 billion was approved for participants in the third cycle of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT)* program.
As 2017 came to an end, the coastal area was still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, and one-third of the state was affected by drought. Those twin contradictions will always ensure that the TWDB has its eye on both flood and drought.
*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.