Lawmakers Worry that $2 Billion Water Plan Could Become A Slush Fund

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.

Some lawmakers expressed worry today that a plan to overhaul the Texas Water Development Board and put the agency in charge of overseeing a $2 billion water infrastructure fund could create another slush fund plagued by cronyism.

Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), a close ally of Gov. Perry, has proposed legislation that would replace the part-time six-member water board with three full-time members, appointed by the governor.

At a hearing today, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) voiced apprehension at the idea.

“I’m hoping that we’re heading down the right track here,” Lucio said.

Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) brought up the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the $3 billion grant-making institute authorized by the Legislature in 2007. CPRIT is at the center of a public corruption investigation after it came to light that several grants had improperly awarded to companies.

“It’s a large sum of money,” Whitmire said, according to the Associated Press. “How do we put the checks and balances — the safeguards, Troy, so that we don’t see the abuses that we witnessed with the cancer fund?”

Heather Harward, executive director of H2O4TEXAS, a business group that stands to gain from a water bank, tried to reassure lawmakers that the state will get a lot of bang for their buck.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said it’s critical that the state implements a balanced solution between water projects and water conservation. Fraser’s Senate Bill 4 would direct that no less than 10 percent of the funding go toward water conservation and another 10 percent go to rural areas. However, that’s less than the House proposal and far below what’s recommended by some conservation groups.

“Our fear is that this money is not going to go towards conservation,” Metzger said. “We’d like to see half of the funding put aside for conservation. We’d also like to see education included in this funding.”

Before moving further in the process, Lucio said he wants questions answered like what types of projects would be funded and which ones would be subject to appropriations.

“I’m very supportive of Chairman Fraser and what he’s been trying to do, but I want to know…” Lucio trailed off.

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