Regional Water Plans Nearing Completion

Lissa Gregg

Significant progress has been made toward the completion of the 2016 regional water plans. Freese and Nichols is helping to develop an Initially Prepared Plan (IPP) for eight of the 16 regional water planning areas (RWPAs). The IPP is a draft version of a region’s water plan that is reviewed by the public and Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) once it is submitted to TWDB by May 1, 2015. After a comment period, the regional water planning groups (RWPG) within each RWPA vote to adopt the final regional plans, which then get combined by TWDB into the 2017 State Water Plan.

The purpose of the regional water planning process is to identify, develop, and recommend management strategies for water supply in Texas. This process considers population and water demands, and offers a framework to plan for future needs. Every five years the TWDB and the RWPGs coordinate the effort. Freese and Nichols collaborates with these entities as a primary consultant for Regions A, C, F, and H; and as a subconsultant for Regions B, E, G, and I (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Regional Water Planning Areas (Map courtesy of the Texas Water Development Board.)

Texas Regional Water Planning Areas

Existing and proposed water supplies are analyzed and appropriate water management strategies are recommended based on the needs of water user groups and wholesale water providers within each region. Public meetings and communication between the RWPGs help guide plan adoption. Regional water planning consists of several tasks as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Summary of the Regional Water Planning Tasks

Texas Regional Water Planning Tasks

This is the fourth cycle of regional water planning since the current process was adopted in 1997. Each cycle of planning brings news rules to learn and incorporate. Recent changes include a more in-depth drought analysis with a focus on emergency drought management. This has prompted regions that are experiencing new droughts of records to consider new strategies. However, individual water providers are still responsible for developing and updating their drought plans to address actions during drought.

Regional water planning is a long-range planning process, which assesses water needs over a 50-year period. This round of planning incorporates the 2010 Census data, as well as the drought of 2011. Also, this is the first planning cycle that mandates that all regions incorporate TWDB’s new Modeled Available Groundwater (MAG) through a joint planning process, which has affected some regions’ supply and strategies. It is anticipated that many of the 2016 Regional Water Plans will be very different from the current 2011 plans.

Nevertheless, even with the challenges, all IPPs are on track to be submitted on May 1. The regions are currently finalizing strategies, costs and writing the reports.

Additionally, regional water planning will not only identify current and projected water needs but help to prioritize the recommended strategies. Prioritization supplies information necessary for TWDB to provide affordable loans for projects are specified in the State Water Plan through the newly created State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT). Remember, to be eligible for this funding, the project must be in the State Water Plan. If you have a water supply project that you would like included in the 2016 Plans, please reach out to your planning group as soon as possible. Time is limited to have your projects included in the 2016 Plans.

Final regional water plans are to be adopted by December 1, 2015, with the State Water Plan to be released in early 2017. The next round of regional water planning will begin in 2016.