A newly enacted state law to control water in cases of extreme flooding follows the same course as a 1997 bill that ensures water is available during extreme drought.
Senate Bill 8, enacted by lawmakers during the session that ended earlier this year, will take several years to roll out. But like the 22-year-old Senate Bill 1, it takes its cues from stakeholders who live and work in the areas from which a statewide plan will surface.
The bill is a reaction to the 50-plus inches of water that Hurricane Harvey dumped on Houston and Southeast Texas in August 2017.
“This is taking the other end of the spectrum,” said Walt Sears, administrator of the 18-county Northeast Texas Water Planning Group. “They are still wanting a bottoms-up approach on the wet end of the continuum, just like they did on the dry end of the continuum.”
And like the 16 Regional Water Planning Groups, the Regional Flood Planning Groups will submit their recommendations to the Texas Water Development Board.
Lawmakers authorized $738 million to the state agency, which will soon start forming the new regional planning groups. Voters also will be asked to OK an unspecified amount Nov. 5 in Proposition 8 on the Constitutional Amendment election.
The proposition asks for a “constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the flood infrastructure fund to assist in the financing of drainage, flood mitigation, and flood control projects.”
Also like in SB 1, the regional groups will be comprised of people representing agriculture, the environment, local industries such as timber, local governments and other stakeholders.
Much remains to be worked out, including exactly how many flood planning groups there will be. The bill says only that the groups will be formed along the state’s river basins, though it allows that some basins will be divided up so regular meetings can be attended more easily.
A meeting in Tyler last week was the first in a series scheduled across the state to begin forming the planning groups. No one is even sure how many regional groups there will be. Sears, who attended the Tyler meeting, estimated 14 or 15 such groups will begin forming next year.
Sears said about 30 people attended the Tyler meeting from East Texas cities, water authorities, environmental groups, rural water supply corporations and major industries.
He said anyone with an interest in helping the state write its flood plan will soon be able to submit resumes to the water development board.
“Those interested in being a planning group member should begin following this process,” he said. “And sometime in the next couple of months, they’ll need to express their interest. ... But that process has not officially begun.”
Sears said river basins are the focus because what happens upstream eventually affects the coastal areas. The upstream residents will be looking for local projects that will benefit them and their fellow Texans downstream.
“It would be things like trying to better manage the flows down a river so it doesn’t get overbank and widen and get into houses on the flood plain,” Sears said, adding that levies or dams could be among local recommendations to the statewide flood plan.
“Not all things that help the coastal areas would be built in the coastal areas,” he said.
Sears said winding stretches of some Texas rivers were straightened decades ago to allow those areas to drain faster.
“Those downstream areas were (adversely) impacted for the benefit of de-watering the agriculture lands faster,” he said. “So one of the solutions might be, ‘Let’s restore to that meandering position.’ ... Part of the flood planning is to make sure any strategy they come up with doesn’t degrade the water. By investing in our flood protection, we might actually make things better in terms of water quality conditions.”