Here are 5 things you need to know about Senate Bill 1511

Lissa Gregg

Following the close of the legislative session, a few less widely publicized bills are poised to make significant changes to Texas’ State and Regional Water Planning Process.

The planning process was first established by the legislature in 1997 with Senate Bill 1 (SB1). To implement SB1, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) divided the state into 16 Regional Water Planning Areas (RPWA). Each RPWA has a Regional Water Planning Group (RWPG) representing various water user types and government agencies. The RWPGs are tasked with developing a Regional Water Plan that lays out the future of water supply in their region for the next 50 years. Those RWPs are then compiled by the TWDB into the State Water Plan. Currently, the plans are fully updated every five years, but that could change if some RWPGs opt to do a simplified version every-other planning cycle if little has changed in their RPWA. Exactly how the simplified process would work and other details are still somewhat uncertain and will need to be further refined by a rulemaking process at the TWDB, assuming the bill becomes law. Senate Bill 1511 passed both in the Senate and House, and now awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

Here are the 5 things about Senate Bill 1511:

1. Simplified Planning Option – Every-other five-year planning cycle each RWP will have the option to elect a simplified planning process if there have been no significant changes to water availability, water supplies or water demands in the region since the last plan.

2. Remove Strategies that Cease to be Feasible – Under this bill, Regional Water Plans must be amended to remove a strategy if the project sponsor has not taken action to make expenditures needed to construct or apply for permits to implement the strategy on a schedule consistent with when it was projected to be needed.

3. RWPGs to Meet in Readily Accessible to the Public Locations – RWPGs have always been required to hold public meetings in a central location within their regional water planning area, but this bill further emphasizes that the location must be readily accessible to the public.

4. Assessment of Past Projects – The TWDB will be required to include an assessment of whether high priority projects have been implemented when they were needed and an analysis of obstacles to the implementation of projects that were not implemented in that time frame. 

5. New RWPG Membership – State Soil and Water Conservation Board must now be represented on the RWPG as an ex officio member.

The legislative session officially ended on Monday. Gov. Abbott will have 20 days to either sign or veto the bill. If no action is taken during the 20-day window, the bill will automatically become law and go into effect Sept. 1, 2017.