AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Speaking beside a lake off the Colorado River that's receding amid the punishing drought, Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday renewed his calls for voters to approve an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would use $2 billion from the state's Rainy Day fund to finance major water infrastructure projects.
The referendum appears on the Nov. 5 ballot. If approved, it would authorize a one-time payment from Texas' cash reserves — which have been bolstered by the oil and natural gas boom and would balloon to $11.8 billion by August 2015 if left untouched — to bolster water supplies statewide.
Perry called tapping the fund "seed money" and said it would help spur an eventual $30 billion in economic development for water projects. He cheered the proposed amendment as a way to ensure Texas has enough natural resources to keep pace with its rapid economic growth and population increase without raising taxes "a single penny."
The governor spoke to reporters in Austin's Mansfield Dam Park on Lake Travis, which is part of the Colorado River but has seen its water levels fall to 45 feet below normal October levels. That's low enough that over Perry's shoulder, sand bars were exposed where open lake once flowed.
"The view of Lake Travis, it's generally one of the more beautiful views in the state of Texas but the presence of these sometimes islands and now even peninsulas serves as a stark reminder that were in near-record drought conditions and water levels are near record lows as well," Perry said.
A record drought parched much of Texas in 2011 and many areas have yet to recover as rain levels remain below normal.
Perry said the funding would pay for building new reservoirs and pipelines, as well as desalination plants and other projects to conserve and reuse water. He refused to divulge which projects have priority, saying what's most pressing could change if a sudden tropical storm or hurricane brings increased rainfall to some parts of Texas.
"We just cannot afford to come up short on this," Perry said. "We need to do everything within reason to meet our increasing water needs in this state."
Last week, Perry campaigned for voting yes on the referendum from San Angelo in West Texas, which he said was dangerously close to running out of water as levels in nearby reservoirs continue to plummet. On Thursday, he plans to make a similar pitch for the water plan in Wylie, outside Dallas.
Joining Perry on Wednesday were state lawmakers from both parties, including state Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat. He said of the issue: "There's nothing partisan about it."
"Of course the Rainy Day Fund will not make it rain," Watson said, "But it will put us in a situation where we will be able to expand and preserve and conserve our water in this state."