AUSTIN (AP) — Texas voters backed a plan Tuesday to use $2 billion in reserve funds to help the state meet the future water needs of its booming population and economy.
Tuesday's ballot measure was widely expected to pass, as it was backed by environmental groups and most of the state's top elected officials, including Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
The measure amends the state constitution to move $2 billion from Texas' rainy day fund to its water infrastructure fund. The money would help defray the borrowing costs on large-scale water infrastructure projects, including creating reservoirs, laying new pipelines and replacing older ones.
The State Water Development Board has identified $53 billion in projects that would ensure enough water is available in 2060. The new revolving account should help leverage the funds needed to implement the water plan, though many lawmakers insist it is only a first step to meeting all the state's needs.
Local governments that use money will have to pay it back with interest.
Opponents of the ballot measure worried about taking money from the state's savings account while bristling at the idea that bureaucrats might pick winners and losers when awarding contracts. Republican Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, said he felt the state shouldn't get involved in the bond market.
Still, experts say Texas needs to capture at least 2.9 trillion gallons of fresh water by 2060 to meet demand. Money from the state's cash reserves will help implement key parts of Texas' 2012 State Water Plan, which calls for 562 projects, with 34 percent of the water coming from conservation and reuse, 17 percent from new major reservoirs, 34 percent from other surface supplies and 15 percent from other sources.