Seizing the moment for rural water infrastructure
In February, 2021, Winter Storm Uri shined a light on the fragility of our state’s infrastructure as an energy crisis quickly evolved into a water crisis. However, even before Texas was plunged into the ice, our state’s water infrastructure systems received a C- for Drinking Water and a D for our Wastewater systems from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Rural and historically disadvantaged communities are the most impacted by aging or poorly planned water systems.
Texas will soon receive $2.9 billion dollars that will flow through the Texas Water Development Board to be distributed to communities for improvements to their water and wastewater infrastructure. In the face of a changing climate, it is important we place long-term resiliency as our top priority when considering the “types” of water projects being implemented. There exist creative approaches and technologies to do more with less, to make the most of every drop.
Seizing this moment, we have organized a panel of experts and community members to share with Texans the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have to revitalize the lifeblood of our state, its water. Join our panel as they discuss the grant and loan opportunities available and hear from rural voices on their plans to put these funds into action.
- Jennifer Walker – Deputy Director for the Texas Coast and Water Program, National Wildlife Federation
- Rebeca Gibson – Mayor Pro Tem, City of Bandera
- Mike Pearson – West Texas Coordinator, Communities Unlimited
- Troy Dorman – PhD, PE, CFM, Director of Water Resources, Halff Associates, Inc.
Moderator: Cliff Kaplan, Hill Country Alliance
The Texas Water Symposium is a joint project of the Hill Country Alliance, Schreiner University, Texas Tech University, and Texas Public Radio.
Rush transcript (unedited):
Chris Distel [00:00:01] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. It is so great to have you here. My name is Chris Distel on behalf of Schreiner University. Welcome to an in-person Texas Water Symposium. We are very, very glad to be back together in-person and sharing a panel conversation as a community. I hope that you'll have time. Those of you who are here today to check out the tables in the back from our partners in the Texas Water Symposium with Shriner, Texas Public Radio and the Hill Country Alliance. I have nothing further to say except that I am so glad that the relatively large amount of rain for Kerrville this this month has not distracted you and left you home. Thanks again for being here. This really is a delight. I'll turn it over now to our moderator for our session from the Hill Country Alliance. Cliff Kaplan.
Cliff Kaplan [00:01:01] Thanks, Chris. Thank you. Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Texas Water Symposium. My name is Cliff Kaplan. I'm the program director for the Hill Country Alliance. I really couldn't be more honored and excited to be here at Schreiner University in Kerrville, along the banks of the Guadalupe River, talking about water in our rural communities. I want to thank Schreiner, Texas Public Radio and Texas Tech University Field Station and Junction, who along with the Hill Country Alliance, have brought the Texas Water Symposium to listeners and residents in the Hill Country for more than a decade. And it does feel very good to be back in person after COVID. We're here today to talk about the unique situation we're in related to our water infrastructure in the hill country and really across the state. You don't need me to tell you that we are growing as a region with more folks moving to our area. We're seeing greater demands on shrinking water supplies, intensifying flood events, and more wastewater being produced and requiring us to manage it. All of us want to ensure that when we turn on the taps. Either today or 100 years from today that clean water flows out. We all want to ensure that our rivers keep flowing and all of us want to protect life, livelihoods and property from the increasing impacts of floods and droughts. To do that, our communities need good planning and investment in infrastructure the pipes, open spaces and treatment plants that provide the water, wastewater and flood protection that we rely on. In the latest report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers grading each state across the country on its infrastructure, Texas got a C-minus for drinking water infrastructure and a D for wastewater infrastructure. Winter storm Uri casts a dire light on the fragility of our water infrastructure. We heard stories of multiple hill country communities drilling holes in the city streets at random. Searching for water main breaks because they didn't have their pipes mapped. Rural areas face unique challenges. They often don't have professional engineers on staff. They're often operating with aging pipes in facilities. And they generally don't have the tax base to take on huge multi multi-million dollar projects. But what makes this moment unique are the new opportunities to draw funds into our rural communities, to improve our rural water infrastructure, to meet the increasing demands for water, the needs for water conservation, and to increase the resiliency of our systems. That's what we'll be talking about tonight. Now, I have the pleasure of introducing our panelists. Jennifer Walker, deputy director of Texas Coast and Water Program. Rebecca Gibson, the mayor pro tem for the city of Bandera and the director of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater Conservation District, Mark Pierson, West Texas Coordinator for Communities Unlimited. And Troy Dorman, director of Water Resources that have Associates. Thank you all for being here and looking forward to this conversation. I think my first question will go to you, Jennifer. Tell us just a little bit about the infrastructure funding that Texas will be receiving over the next five years. Why should rural communities see this funding as a once in a lifetime opportunity?
Jennifer Walker [00:04:57] Thanks, Cliff. So we have a there's there's been some legislation passed in the last several months, the bipartisan infrastructure bill. And it is making a big investment across the nation in all kinds of things. But we're here to talk about water. And there will be, over the next five years, a $2.9 billion investment in water infrastructure in Texas. Most of this money will come through the state revolving fund, through the clean water drinking water state revolving fund. And it's going to be over the next five years. The first year of funding will be about $507 million. This is this is a huge opportunity for Texas. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest and a big way in our infrastructure. And these funds are on top of what already comes through the state revolving fund. So it's, you know, tripling it in some cases and depending on an annual funding like quadrupling what's normally available to us. There's a couple and interesting things about about this pot of money. There are funds through the EPA for technical assistance, and that's still being worked out exactly how that's going to work. And and the EPA is requiring the federal government is requiring 49% of these funds to be distributed through grants or forgivable loans. So that is a real game changer and a huge opportunity for communities that are not able to take out big debt to finance water infrastructure improvements or water infrastructure expansions, or to fix problems in their water infrastructure or any of those kinds of things that may be happening. So the opportunity to have some portion of that of of those funds come through grants is is a really huge opportunity. So I think that's really a lot. What we're going to be talking about tonight is how do we invest in our infrastructure. And and I know that that we're always talking about that. But what we have right now is a lot of money coming to Texas. So that is the big difference that we're faced with. And so we need to think about how we operationalize that for our communities and the whole country to the best advantage and really create opportunity long into the future. How do we invest wisely and how do we do it right? And how do we access all the resources?
Cliff Kaplan [00:07:28] Thanks, Jennifer. So it's an opportunity for all the communities in our state. But why don't we kind of put a local frame on it? Rebeca, if you could just tell us a little bit about Bandera. What's the community like? What kind of challenges are you facing there and what steps has the Bandera City Council taken to address them so far? And that will help set the context for the opportunities that Bandera has coming here.
Rebeca Gibson [00:07:55] Yes, sure, Cliff, thanks for that. The city of Bandera is about a square mile with a population around a thousand. That hasn't changed much over the last several decades. But the county, however, has had a pretty significant population increase. I've got a quote from actually from the Hill Country Conservation Network, State of the Hill Country Study. That Bandera County population has increased by 137% in 30 years. So that's really tremendous. And so those those folks are going to impact water availability in the city as well, increased tourism, all of these things. In my several years now on the city council, we've done a lot to aggressively like stay on top of the community development block grants and address infrastructure issues kind of in a in a prioritized way, according to our city engineers. But what I'm really excited about and hope that can happen with some of these upcoming funding opportunities that are really vast and potentially larger amounts of money is taking care of, like the wastewater treatment plant, which needs to be completely relocated. And that's an expense that you have to do it. You really want to do it right? We'd like to stop discharging into the Medina River. And so it's just a much more substantial investment than can be accomplished like some of these other wins have been. And I think you really want to take the opportunity to plan for sustainability and conservation of of the water resource, because our water resources is a real issue right now to.
Cliff Kaplan [00:09:56] Thanks, Rebeca. So, Mark, can you tell us a little bit about Communities Unlimited and and what you all do to help communities like Bandera fill the gaps that they may have either in their infrastructure or in their staffing or planning?
Mark Pearson [00:10:14] Sure. So so my name is Mark Pearson. I work for Communities Unlimited, and we're a nonprofit organization that works across seven southern states from Alabama, Tennessee, across to Oklahoma and Texas, and can come alongside rural communities, smaller communities. A lot of times they've been smaller than ERA and providing technical assistance. The history where we're partly funded by USDA Rural Development that used to be the Farmers Home Administration, financed a lot of rural water wastewater infrastructure in the past. My grandmother's home out north of Abilene, Texas. It's an area that the dry land farms there wasn't good groundwater. And so my my mom grew up with rainwater that's cut on the house to a cistern. So 1974 is when they got water lines that went by the house and they had connected water water service there. So there's there's a lot of that generation of community investment that we've done, depending on the age of the community over the last eight years, 100 years, that that it's some of that infrastructure is aged out and it's time to replace it. And and and so our group can come alongside and kind of work through what are some of those funding options. And then some of my coworkers have had careers as operators and public works directors, utilities, and they can come alongside an operator in a smaller town where you may only have one operator on staff that's running a water plant and a wastewater plant and one city secretary and then your city council. There are also folks that are in the volunteer fire department and then also farming during the day and wear multiple hats in multiple roles. And that's not really unusual to any of our rural communities. It's kind of what our history is, is that there's usually responsible people that are wearing multiple roles to get the job done. And so as a nonprofit group, I kind of view some of our roles to come alongside and be good help to them and help them connect to resources. If they haven't worked with an engineer in a while, we'll work through how do you actually hire an engineer? How do you do a request for qualifications? What are good questions you need to ask of hiring that engineer and then working through among these funding programs? As Jennifer mentioned, there are some there's a significant window of some kind of additional funds that are coming down that as a state, we need to kind of have our eye on the ball and how do we use those funds to the best of our ability to get things done that might not have happened otherwise. And then on on regular days, there are some strong funding programs already here that we need to continue using. So you see a development that I mentioned. The Texas Department of Agriculture handles our community development block grants and then the Texas Water Development Board that those funds are coming through also has different state funding programs because we're a state with a good credit rating, its managed finances pretty well. There are funds to do to get projects down, to get work done. But but I think for for these smallest communities, some of the challenge is as you get a smaller budget, I think it's almost a harder management task sometimes that you need to be planning farther ahead and and that that measuring twice, maybe measuring three and four times before you're kind of making decisions. And so so we're we're kind of some additional additional help to come alongside making that some of those decisions.
Cliff Kaplan [00:13:41] Thanks, Mark. Troy. And in your engineering practice, you engage in some of the more cutting edge approaches to water, wastewater, stormwater management. Can you just tell us about some of the strategies that Hill Country communities or other communities that you're working with are using that really do push the envelope for for Texas water management?
Troy Dorman [00:14:07] Sure, I'll be happy to. What I want to introduce is really the concept of one water, and that's what we're talking about today. I don't think we've defined it yet, but for the audience, I'd like to just quickly define it and to say that it's really looking at all water as a resource. Okay, it doesn't matter if it's rain that's fallen from the sky that's clean and got in cisterns and used for drinking water or even for just watering your yard. It is stormwater that can be a resource to it. Once it hits the ground. It does tend to pick up a few things, but it's still something that we can use as a supply for our human uses and then, you know, reuse. You're talking about a wastewater treatment plant that needs to be moved. Now's the time to start thinking about reusing that water that's coming out of that wastewater treatment plant. The benefit of that is the less discharge in. To the river. So it's going to keep the river cleaner, which actually helps your tourism, which actually can bring more funds in. So it's kind of connecting all these things together. That's really what one water is. In Texas, we are, I want to say, still somewhat. Really proud of our lawns. We need to stop thinking about lawns as something that is a good thing, because lawns are kind of an English idea and we don't have the climate in the world, in the western part of Texas. So conservation is going to have to be a big part of this conversation. But it's it's really more than conservation. It's just not using that water for that purpose, going to other practices that allow you to have a lawn that yeah, it doesn't look green all the time, but, you know, you don't have to mow it either, which is a great thing. You have less time spent mowing your yard. Mine's one. I've watered my yard and 15 years and there's stuff growing turns brown when we don't get rain like right now. But as soon as it rains again, it'll turn green again. So it's all those things we're going to have to we're going to have to change not just the technology, not just the innovative practices on the engineering side, but as a society, we've got to be able to adapt. We we have as we get higher densities of population like is happening in our counties especially. Right. Cities can't really annex very much right now because of state law. So the pressure is in the counties and the counties are seeing that growth. It means more water use. It means more limited resources that we've got to be able to manage better. Last thing. City of Burnie is one of the cities that I've been working with. City Burnie has passed a new ordinance that does require stormwater management. It's probably the most progressive ordinance in the state of Texas right now, and I just did some really quick calculations on it the other day. And based on what the City of Burnie is requiring to be managed for their stormwater runoff, if they could infiltrate just 10% of that water and stored in the groundwater, which is where they get a lot of their water from, then they would have it would supply about 60% of their annual water use and that's just what's already in the ordinance. So we have to be thinking about these things. We have to be thinking about how can we plan to replenish our groundwater supplies and making sure that as we do grow and as we have practices, whether they're agricultural or urban practices, that we are preserving that groundwater for the future because that's what is the character of the whole country. That's really what makes the character of the hill country is the water that's in our streams and in our creeks and our springs.
Jennifer Walker [00:17:30] Great. So I want to I want to follow up a little bit on on what Mark and Troy said. Mark was talking about, you know, looking ahead, you know, as a smaller community, looking ahead, trying to keep a few your eye on the horizon, a few steps ahead so you can plan on how you invest. I may be paraphrasing a little too much. Tell me if I'm wrong, but and then Troy was talking to us about one water and some of these kind of different kinds of water management strategies. And so putting it together with this with this, you know, really big infusion of funding, we have a really. Great opportunity and the hill country to to to invest and to look to the future and to. To maybe not do the things the same that we've always done them. You know, if not to say, okay, we need some water to drill a well or get some water from a reservoir. We have a lot of opportunities. We have a lot of proven methods that Troy was just talking about out in front of us. We can get multiple benefits. We can improve recreation in our hill country streams by not discharging wastewater. And we can reuse that water in our communities to help cool our buildings or to irrigate greenspace. We we can think more expansively about the opportunities ahead of us for how we are going to use and manage water and that investment. And then and then if if your community qualifies, the grants that may come with it are big opportunities to kind of shift our thinking and how we're going to manage water supplies. And I think that we've got some real, you know, issues, we've got water issues across Texas, but in the whole country we've got population growth coming at us. We've got folks moving into the whole country. That may be, you know, the choice, talking about watering lawns and things, you know, that may be bringing their kind of like bigger city water use patterns to the whole country, which we don't want. And they're moving the whole country, you know, to because it's a beautiful place, because the things we love, whether you swim in the river or you go hiking or you just you just like it and you love, you know, to go to the H-E-B in Dripping Springs, I don't know, everyone has a different thing that they like. But you know, we have everyone, everything and everyone coming to the hill country requires water and we want to keep it the way it is. So we want to make sure that we are investing appropriately and there's lots of different ways to do that. The old engineering ways don't necessarily have to be the way we do it in the future. So I just want to kind of plant that seed. And the other way that we kind of get there is is through people in your community, you know, really putting your hand up and saying, I want to do things a little different, whether you have expertize to bring to the table or whether you're just going to suggest an idea and help try to guide your decision makers. But it's a it's an important time that we're in.
Troy Dorman [00:20:35] Yeah. Can I just follow on real quick with that and say most of our wastewater infrastructure was funded by the federal government in the sixties and seventies. Prior to that, we didn't have wastewater treatment plants in a lot of places. Well, now those plants are reaching the end of their lifecycle. But the other great thing is we've learned about 50 years worth of how to do it better. And so there's a lot of technologies out there. There's a lot of other states that are doing a lot of things that have been doing this for a lot longer than us. So there's a lot of proven technologies. I think that's what Jennifer was trying to say, is there are proven technologies out there right now that can help with cleaning up the streams, can help with making water available for use. There is one city in the state of Texas that actually has gone direct potable. If you all know what that means, that means you take it directly out of the wastewater treatment plant and you put it right back into the water treatment system. And it has been done in Wichita Falls because they were 30 days from running out of water. So the technology's there. We have to get to where we can accept it. But we've learned a lot and with this investment now from the federal government, it is time to start employing those technologies.
Rebeca Gibson [00:21:42] I appreciate you mentioning that as well, Troy, because the lifespan of the wastewater treatment plant, I really do see this as an opportunity and I really am hopeful that we'll pull the funding together with with the help of all the opportunities out there. So Jennifer, I'm curious if you can elaborate a little bit on if you know yet anything about this application in terms of points towards green infrastructure, less gray infrastructure, more low impact development, the reclaim reuse technology and things like that, as you know, in terms of prioritizing your your chances for funding, I think. Yeah.
Cliff Kaplan [00:22:24] And if you would, Jennifer, while you go through that explanation, make sure to tell us what is green infrastructure, what is GRE infrastructure, etc..
Jennifer Walker [00:22:33] I was going to say the short answer is no. I don't know the answer to that.
Rebeca Gibson [00:22:37] But yeah.
Jennifer Walker [00:22:40] But I'll keep talking and maybe Mark might know some of ward too. So Rebecca was bringing up Summit. These are these are some of the items that so when we as a community you apply you put in or project information form to the state revolving fund to apply for a project and it gets scored along all the other projects and there's several criteria get scored on some of the things you mentioned. You know, gets scored on on you know, if it's a disadvantaged community, green infrastructure could be scored. And green infrastructure is is infrastructure that, you know, say you have a nice riparian area along a river that can help improve the water quality and slow the flow of river. There's stormwater ponds are not green infrastructure, are they?
Jennifer Walker [00:23:33] Bioswells, thank you. So there's a lot of different rain gardens, different things that improve water quality, create green space, slow the flow of water, improve the ground, the groundwater infiltration. So there's a lot of different benefits that conserve. It's also less cost, less money to construct than your traditional stay like a concrete culvert or some other things. So there's a lot of benefits to it. And so these are the kinds of things that national that that at National Wildlife Federation, where I work, that we have really tried to advocate for through the scoring process for state revolving fund, for through lots of different loan programs for these types of projects to score higher. Because in our mind, you know, there are, there are better investment, there's multiple benefits and they're help. The Environment and National Wildlife Federation, we really care about having some environmental benefits with our infrastructure projects and then really is a benefit to communities to where you're creating some green space and creating wildlife habitat and other things. And sorry, I started talking about this and forgot about the other things, but we definitely have been talking to the Texas Water Development Board, which is the state agency that really administers many of these grant programs about their scoring criteria. And there's been some guidance from the federal government with the bipartisan infrastructure bill about the scoring criteria and how what they're hoping to see. And the state, once it puts together all the project information forms and wants to invite back applications, they issue what is called an IEP. What is IEP stand for intended use plan. Okay, my acronyms got away from me, y'all. They issue an intended use plan which actually lays out how they scored all the projects are our understanding that the EPA, with the new big funding coming to Texas, will be taking a really close look at that to see if they're meeting if each state, not just Texas, every state is meeting. The letter of that I just got way in the weeds there with you for for that question. But but yes. Yes. And I'll pass it to Mark. He knows more about this than I do.
Mark Pearson [00:25:55] I'm not sure I know more about it, but I'll take it back to a different level since we're since we went to the weeds on the state revolving funds or go back a little bit, that the next five years of those additional infrastructure funds that are coming down to the state that we kind of want to have our eye on and use to the best of our abilities are coming through our drinking water state revolving fund that was created to following the Safe Drinking Water Act. So the Safe Drinking Water Act is basically how we regulate our public drinking water. And so we've made policy decisions as a very large group in this country that we want to be we want it to be safe to drink the water coming out of the tap, whether you are in the city of Kerrville or you're in the city of San Antonio, or you're in Candelaria, Texas, or Presidio, Texas, or Melvin, Texas, or even Texas, we want safe drinking water quality. And those funds are the funds that are available for those communities, whether it's loan funds or honestly, historically, a pretty small percentage of grant funds in kind of just enough needed that the decision makers, local decision makers, have the tools to get the job done to finance what they need to finance. And my perspective is anybody that can take a loan needs to take a loan. And those grant funds are really reserved for things that wouldn't happen in the absence of those partial grant funds through the state. So the drinking water state revolving fund refunds to help us meet our basics of our Safe Drinking Water Act and or clean water state revolving funds. Clean water is kind of code word for wastewater in this world are clean water state revolving fund was to help us meet the Clean Water Act which says that we don't want untreated water going into our streams that are water sources for folks downstream. There are places where where kids swim that we fish out. If we want that, we want that water as clean as possible if it's getting back into the streams. And just another last kind of side comment on the on the green infrastructure. I think a lot of times we humans tend to be overconfident in on our solutions. And and so I think one of the things I've encouraged is this kind of as in the groups that you're in, sometimes taking a step backward and looking at the larger framework. But as Troy was saying, like the sixties and seventies, we implemented a lot of mechanical solutions to solving problems. And some of those can work pretty well if they're operated and maintained and replaced. And and so, like, like any of the equipment you're familiar with in your life, it can either be used well in work or there are some times that you're outside the parameters where it's going to work and you can have failure. But it turns out that nature is actually pretty good at doing a lot of these treatment and systems that that we're talking about. And it kind of just depends on how much were overwhelming those systems. And so that that sense that needs to be out there and filter water as it's going down into aquifers can actually work pretty well as filtration. But once you have failing subjects and large quantities or too much livestock in a small area, you're going to overwhelm the system and it's not going to work. But with but I think what we're doing is kind of remembering and that that these natural natural plants and things before that water hits the stream, those roots can do a whole lot of filtration and take up those nutrients before it hits our waterways and causes other effects downstream. So so I think those are instead of instead of those things being kind of environmental solutions that are kind of add ons to the project, I think they need to be more of our kind of long term thinking. That's as we're as we're making decisions and measuring twice what are all the different options on the table and what are the where are the most long term and most resilient options as we're moving forward?
Troy Dorman [00:29:38] Troy Yeah, I wanted to add on the two terms that we're kind of talking about here are really resilience and sustainability, and resilience is a big part of all the grant funding now, not just the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the drinking water state revolving fund, but all the CDBG grants, all of the funding that's coming out of the state of Texas.
Cliff Kaplan [00:29:59] What are those acronyms?
Troy Dorman [00:30:02] I was going to just get to that. So all of those have a resilience component. Resilience is really about responding to stresses. So when you have a stress, a bunch of cattle or a bunch of people in an area that's producing a lot of waste, that system can handle some of it. If it's for a short duration, it can handle a higher amount of a higher load. But then you've got to go back to, you know, a manageable amount. So for our human environment, resilience is how readily does the environment or do we respond to get back to a normal situation? So like in a flood, we want to be able to have our, you know, floods going to happen, right? We can't stop the flood, but we want to be able to respond after that flood and be able to get the community up and running as quickly as possible. One of the best ways to do that is to keep our wastewater treatment plants out of the floodplain. Right. So moving that that wastewater treatment plant to another location is actually more resilient and more sustainable because it's not going to give flooded and then push the waste out into the stream. So those are those that's kind of what resilience and sustainability are, green infrastructure. What we're finding is, yes, it's very resilient because it doesn't mean it doesn't have to be restored after that flood comes through. It can actually you know, it can handle the flood. The flood goes through, the system is still operating. We don't have to go repair concrete. We don't have to repair a detention basin or something like that. So and the third I guess the third leg of that one I want to throw in there is fiscal sustainability. That's one of the things we've really learned in the last 50 years is a lot of the way we set up these mechanical systems in our wastewater treatment plants wasn't really fiscally sustainable for the communities. We've kind of artificially, in some cases, kept our rates low for water and wastewater services. That's allowed people to water their lawns. We've got to start resetting that, too. And so the cost of the infrastructure to build a water your lawn needs to be borne by the people who are watering the lawn, not the people who just want to flush their toilets, or we've got to change that whole dynamic and be able to make it to where, you know, when you do start watering your lawn, it gets prohibitively expensive unless you've really got the money to do it. So we've learned. But that's what I want to say. We've learned a lot. We know more about what's sustainable and what how to be resilient in our communities. And now that we have this opportunity to do that, we need to be thinking about that long term. It means thinking 50 years down the road for what the next step is when that wastewater treatment plant either needs to be expanded or replaced.
Cliff Kaplan [00:32:37] Councilmember Gibson Yeah, we're talking about new approaches to wastewater drinking water, stormwater management and new opportunities that are coming online due to funding availability. How do you and your colleagues think about this? Your colleagues on the city council think about this kind of situation. I mean, what are you weighing when you when you're considering moving a wastewater treatment plant out? Of the flood plain and what kind of wastewater treatment plant you want to replace the existing plant with. How do you weigh those decisions? How do your colleagues see them? You know, we're hearing here from experts who work on water issues every day, but most rural officials.
Rebeca Gibson [00:33:24] Are not even experts.
Cliff Kaplan [00:33:26] Yet. Thank you. So, please, maybe you could help us think about what those conversations look like and then also what community members in our rural communities, how they can approach their elected officials to bring them these ideas and to talk with them about them.
Rebeca Gibson [00:33:44] That was a lot.
Cliff Kaplan [00:33:46] You can do it.
Rebeca Gibson [00:33:46] Yeah, I can do it. I think that there's a really good energy behind alternative solutions right now. We have in Bandera, we've had a really serious challenge acquiring land to move to. So without knowing where the plant will go, we have no idea of knowing how far we'll have to convey. And then we also can't get to tied up around exactly what type of treatment plant we will have because will there be opportunity for land application right there on site? Will it will the effluent then be treated and conveyed elsewhere to an agricultural use or a golf course? Or is there the opportunity to do a storage recharge? And that's one of those areas that's that's really right now, I think, a tough pill for a lot of people to swallow.
Cliff Kaplan [00:34:56] But you're talking about you're talking about putting the treated wastewater effluent back into the ground, into the aquifer. Just wanted to make that clear for the audience.
Rebeca Gibson [00:35:05] And I don't know how common this is in the other areas around, but so the city of Bandera has three municipal wells that are in the Lower Trinity Aquifer and one well in the middle Trinity Aquifer. The aquifers don't really recharge. They don't communicate and they don't recharge well. So it would take a very targeted and very scientific and specific method to make that happen. So would would do I believe that council would love to do that and see something like that happen? Yes. Do are we going to have to do that over a 20 year plan? Commitment, you know, something similar to what Blanco has recently done and rolled out, like, you know, like a ten year zero discharge plan. I don't know exactly how how it all unfold, but it is very exciting to hear the potential for funding because I think that we would like to go big and do it all and do it the best way possible. But we have to do what we can afford to do.
Cliff Kaplan [00:36:13] Well, thanks, Rebecca. We'll come back to the city of Blanco or maybe we'll go there now. Jennifer, could you tell us just about the story in Blanco that Councilmember Gibson was just referring to?
Jennifer Walker [00:36:26] Well, yes, I can. I was you were telling this story about moving the wastewater plant and and and Bernie. Councilmember and I was like, land is expensive. Where do you move it to? How do you get enough land for land application? I mean, these are all things that thinking about in Blanco as well. So the city of Blanco is trying to they have a goal to not discharge wastewater to the Blanco River, which is very laudable. And and and many of us support them in that effort and are really trying to help come together with some solutions. Because as we've already talked about, you know, there's not water experts in every little community. And and the people that are experts are doing a billion other things. So we all throw a hats in the ring and we try to work together to figure out a solution that works. And so so that's one of the things that that myself and many other folks are doing in Blanco, under the leadership of their great city council and other people in the community trying to come up with solutions. But again. If you're not going to discharge, what are you going to do? If you're going to do a land application, the cost of land is going up. What if a subdivision comes in and you don't have the authority to regulate that and it throws all your plans out of whack because it's going to double the population of your community. What if what if the the landowner doesn't you know, you can't find a way to convey the water, you know, convey the wastewater or that effluent because there's no willing landowners as are a lot of problems to grapple with sounds very similar and exactly the kind of questions that we're trying to answer and Blanco and work with that community to help answer and I say I say we I'm just helping in a very little way. It's the folks within that community that are doing such great work trying to solve these gnarly problems, just like a lot of other communities in the whole country are trying to do. And then also thinking about the opportunity, the time constraints, the, you know, the race to try to to access some of these funds. There's lots of funds coming in. We've talked about the infrastructure bill, but there's you know, Troy mentioned the Community Development BLOCK Grants and and USDA and all other kinds of grants programs coming in. And it is it is a lot and sort when you're also just trying to figure out like what is the solution for our community and then to untangle that funding web as well and figure out how you're going to going to make that work into the future.
Cliff Kaplan [00:39:11] Thanks, Jennifer. Okay. I want to circle back to this question of elected officials. Ultimately, it's the local elected officials in most cases who will make the decisions for what kinds of infrastructure projects to pursue in our communities. And as you all have pointed out, these are decisions with huge long term impacts. They set the community on long term trajectories. This infrastructure that is sort of aging out now was constructed in the sixties and seventies. Each of you engage elected officials on these issues from your different positions in this work. And so I'll just throw it out to anybody who wants to answer it. How do you approach rural elected officials to provide them support, guidance, help them think about these decisions and then help them connect to the resources that they might need.
Jennifer Walker [00:40:08] I can go first because I have an answer. So one of the things that we try to do at National Wildlife Federation and we work a lot with Hill Country Alliance and through the Whole Country Conservation Network, we really endeavor to be a resource and to show and demonstrate solutions that are possible. We have a guidebook that we just put out one water in the Texas hill country that really showcases a lot of the one water alternative type water solutions that are that are available. And we highlight strategies through the Hill Country that have done several of the projects that have been talked about tonight. And then we then we highlight the engineers, the planners that the the people, the professionals that help actually do these projects so that so that communities that are thinking about maybe a different way to do things or how do I solve this problem in my community? How do I approach this? You can look through this guidebook for some ideas about how other area, other communities in your region, your peers have have solved this. So that's just like one small example of what we try to do. We also my organization works at the state policy level. We try to get policies in place that that help like that help, you know, the council member and and Bandera with the scoring issue and and how do we have, you know, green infrastructure projects score higher so that you can actually get them funded or you know, thinking about that and also thinking about technical assistance. You know, I'm not an engineer, but I know a lot of them and I help connect people and we can help get grant funds. And there's a lot a lot of different kinds of things that we can do to equip communities to help move forward. And I discovery time to think of answers. So you're welcome.
Troy Dorman [00:42:04] Thank you. I'll jump in here. You said funding. I think that's the biggest thing from my side is trying to help help find the funding for the communities to help them solve those issues. The other couple of spots that have been successful is when a community is going through a comprehensive plan. That's really the time to sit down and talk about what is the community want to be because it's a planning effort. You know, they're thinking now 20, 30, 40 years down the road and they're starting to think about what do they want to do different? They take stock of where they're at and where they might want to be headed. That's an opportunity to start thinking about innovative ways, think things to do different on the flood mitigation side. The other area is there's a hazard mitigation plan that each community is required to have in order to be eligible for FEMA funding. And that's, again, another opportunity to talk about funding, to talk about what are the causes of flooding. What can be done differently so that we are preventing flooding in the future as new development does come in? There's a lot of planning organizations at county levels, state levels, regional levels, and then I'll put out the plug for the regional flood planning process that is going on right now that the Texas Water Board is doing. That is an outgrowth basically of the state water planning that started 20 plus years ago now. And that regional flood planning process is bringing all the stakeholders, all the interest together in a region to look at specifically flooding. But we are talking about water quality. We actually are talking about water supply, too. How can these projects augment water supply? So I would say planning processes at the community level are really great opportunity to start talking about change and then finding the funding to make that happen is really the next step.
Mark Pearson [00:44:05] And I can I add on to that a little bit, the smart growth communities and limited. And so a lot of sort of for the last eight years a lot of my career is in kind of the really, really small towns that are less than 500 population. Or if they're not incorporated where there are water supply, corporations are providing service or any one of a variety of different types of water district that we have in the state. And a lot of those are so small that they they don't have those planning processes usually, and they really need those planning processes to different degrees. And I think I think part of what we need to figure out how to do is how to help that happen in some of these communities where where the structure that you have is a city council that are volunteer and are usually people that are busy wearing a couple of different hats. And you have one city secretary, maybe a utility clerk that's part time and one operator that's doing the different jobs. And those little cities may have kind of all the responsibilities of a big city, but it gets hard to get to them. It's hard it's hard to have funds from a small tax base to repair streets and do the other things that need to be done. And so I think some of the encouragement from those that are kind of engaged and listening here about Hill Country and as you get to smaller communities, I think just knowing how to support those folks that are on the boards of those committees or that are on council, a lot of us are not naturally inclined to political pursuits like that for various reasons, but those folks may need some support or may need may need to have committees or work groups or folks that have energy to help them out. And so I think that's that's something to look for. The more we can can educate other folks in those communities and have people just attend those meetings. I don't know how many how many water supply corporation board meetings I've attended that it was only me and the board members and nobody else. And we need to have folks in those in those meetings and city council meetings because it's also training the next generation of your leaders to let them watch and learn some of that as well. And I think even even younger younger leaders from those communities that that that really when when I'm when I have done a rate study for board members or council members, they're making the hard decision to make a somewhat significant increase to two rates. None of them ever ran for office to raise rates. Half of them ran for office not to raise rates or not to raise taxes. But now they're having to do the calculations. But ultimately, when they're when they're making those decisions, they're making the decision of investment for the next generation, their that is, their children or their grandchildren that needs that infrastructure in the community. And I really haven't been in those situations where they decided not to make that investment, but it's a matter of them. I think this broader question we're out before of how do we support those leaders, how do we work those leaders? It's really just giving them enough enough information that they can make the good decisions and encouraging them to ask the questions. And when I when I'm in those rooms, I, I, I highly value the engineers and the attorneys and the geologists that come to the table. And I know I know that I will never be an engineer or an attorney or a geologist, but those decision makers in the room need to be able to communicate with those folks, and they need to be comfortable asking, asking questions and understanding what they're purchasing, what the investment is, and then the last spend on that toward the funding side, sometimes because of our state and federal programs that I think are part of why we have the good infrastructure we do here is because we're making large community investments and wanting to be able to drink the water and for kids and grandkids to be able to swim safely in streams. Um, part of, part of that investment, sometimes those programs get a little complicated because people have good ideas far away. And by the time those ideas add up and get to the ground, there's a lot of good ideas and a list in order to implementing any of those funding programs we mentioned. And ultimately those decision makers, they just need some clear information that of these three main options they're looking at, this is the best deal for their community to move forward. That's all. That's all they're looking for. And no one's really looking for the government to pay all their way for them. Um, there's an awful lot of 40 year loans and 30 year and 20 year Texas Water Development Board loans that are investments, kind of like we have mortgages on our house that are communities investing in that infrastructure that's going to provide water 20 years from now and 22 years from now. And they just want to know that they're there making the best decision out of what was in front of them on that given given day. And so so to summarize, that's a long form answer. But to summarize, I think really the leaders that we're working with is just kind of respecting them as good decision makers, and then they just need to have the information and resources in front of them to make make the decisions.
Cliff Kaplan [00:48:51] Thanks, Mark. Go ahead.
Rebeca Gibson [00:48:52] Yeah, thanks, Cliff. So this is about kind of like engaging your elected officials there, I think, if I remember. Kind of how it was framed initially. So as an elected official. It maybe just feels a little bit different for me, especially when I engage my my fellow council members. I'm having to go to them with a real a well thought out plan or have really received a lot of collaboration from other entities to present something to council. And so I've had the experience of working in like a multi entity study or finding along with a lot of work with the Hill Country Alliance. All I'll say as well, they've been a tremendous resource for me as an elected official over the years. But you really have to work very hard to to present a case and to present a project that's worthy of funding. Because as as we go through budget season, that's a great time to come to council meetings too. It's during budget season. Oh, I see some Wendy faces. Yeah, I know it's fun, but because we, you know, the decisions have to be made on where the funds are going to be directed. So that that's been my approach in the past. And I also have to honor a well thought out plan from a fellow council member. It might not be something that I would have prioritized, but if if there's a large constituency that's behind that. So just a lot of flexibility, but really seeking the professional, you know, the input from the industry experts in all things. There's lots of, you know, community, community efforts and committees to possibly join, if that's your thing. But I think that prolonged civic engagement is really valuable. So, you know, I try to go to all my commissioner court meetings and in other local meetings too, because if there's something that I sense, you know, I might could be helpful with, I want to jump on board and and do what I can do for for my community as well. So, yeah.
Cliff Kaplan [00:51:16] Thank you. We're almost out of time to wrap up. I'm going to ask just one real quick question or I think it will be a real quick question. And then and then a final question. The quick one is for anybody who who wants it is. What's the timeline for these decisions in the context of these funds coming down into the state? You know, are we talking about decisions and projects need to be explored over the next six months or over the next 18 months or over the next three years? Can somebody give a a sense of how urgent it is to start these conversations, or do we have time to to to feel them out?
Mark Pearson [00:51:53] I would say on this on this five years of infrastructure funding that's coming down now. The Water Development Board was encouraging communities and cities that were applying to submit their projects by the beginning of March, which is their usual timeline, and submit projects for the next year for ranking. And at the beginning of March, they didn't yet have the rules for these funds that were going to come down from EPA. So they're just saying if there's anything you think you might need to do, submit those so we can get them in the list. So this this front years is kind of a little bit of trial and kind of a calibration stage. And and so I think the good news about that is that it wasn't a one time funding here, that that's the first year with four years to follow that with funding. And so by the summer they'll post their intended use plan for those funds is how they work for the state revolving fund. And I encourage everyone here to find the Texas Water Development Board site and read that, to look at it and learn about it. If you're if you're in a community, you're looking at that funding. But then also now to get in conversation with with the consulting engineer that may be working with your community. Or if you don't if you don't have an engineer, kind of reach out and figure out how to how to how to get one. And if if you're not sure where to start in any of that process, I'll just leave a point of contact. There's a Texas Water Infrastructure Coordinating Committee, or TWIC Accord. That's a group where we the the main kind of state and federal funding agencies, the regulatory agencies and a couple of technical assistance provider groups regularly meets at least every two months during communication. And so if there's a small city or a community that needs funding, that's a good initial point of contact for you and say, we need to do this, we're not where to get started and we can kind of come back to you that direction. But I would say get started sooner. But the the life cycle in these projects is a lot longer than what you would think. And so there's to get in line for the funding, take some time to have the planning and engineering done and takes time and to implement projects. Takes takes a lot of time to sort of start seniors. Good.
Cliff Kaplan [00:53:57] Thanks, Mark. That's quick with two CS t WIC dot org. That's right. Thanks. Okay. Rapid Fire last. Question if you want to leave the audience here, our live audience, but also folks listening on the radio with one more thing to think about or one thing to think about tomorrow morning when they wake up. What is it? We'll go to you first, Troy.
Troy Dorman [00:54:20] Thank you again, Troy Dorman with Hap and Associates. I think the thing is, get involved with your community. That's really what I've seen in the communities that I've worked with. It's really hard to get much done if the elected officials don't have input from the public. That's what we really are looking for is and inform your elected officials, if you have a great idea, get it in front of your elected official, go to the council meetings, bring it up, speak in your 3 minutes that you have. Sometimes when I go to council meetings, there's always that one person that's there that that does that and everybody kind of roll their eyes. But there's still a lot of great input that comes from those opportunities. I would say get involved.
Cliff Kaplan [00:55:04] Thanks. Mark.
Mark Pearson [00:55:08] So I would say so tomorrow morning, as your country can your cup of coffee and looking over the sunrise, I would say I would encourage you to just imagine kind of that landscape, the landscape that you live in or the favorite landscape that you drive through. If it's maybe Highway 190 out through Minot, that's a good way to drive westward. It's off of I-10. Imagine that landscape that you live on and imagine it kind of over that longer period of time because. The drought is really not a hypothetical in our part of the world. And increasingly so as you move westward. We were looking earlier in the drive out here that the west half of the state on the drought map is red and deep, kind of brown red right now. Like we're moving in a pretty significant drought. And that's that's not the first that's one of many and current lifetimes out here. Flood is also not a hypothetical. And so what I would say what is set in on that landscape is the amount of people that have shown up and that have have come into the space. I think to think of it kind of over the history in the long time these rivers were here 100 years ago and 200 years and 300 years ago, and the footprint of the people on the land is pretty long, too. As you drive into Presidio, there's a founded 1683, and I was in Saint Augustine almost in Louisiana two weeks ago, the city of Saint Augustine. And their their mission was 17, 17. And there were people there for a good while before that also. But what's different is the quantity of people that we've brought to the landscape in. And so I think so I think I would encourage this is no longer a rapid fire answer, but I would I would encourage you to just think of do a little imagining of that geologic time in the time of the people in that landscape and in the space out there and.
Rebeca Gibson [00:56:57] Oh, okay. Let's just hop on this one real quick. So thank you for the community involvement piece and for, you know, using your imagination. The reason that I have run for city council four times now is because I really love this work and this piece. Conservation. Preserving the natural beauty that Frederick County is for future generations is something I'm just very passionate about, and I have found a network of people that support that effort. And so they've really empowered me to to be the kind of leader that I have become. So thank you. And go do that if you're inspired to do that, too. It's really pretty great.
Jennifer Walker [00:57:41] Totally agree, Councilwoman. So I want to bookend it with again, get involved. A little or a lot, that doesn't matter, but get involved. Water resources are not something that I think we can really take for granted anymore. I saw this quote the other day about how we are experiencing the impacts of climate through water. And I was like. That's you know, that's major work experience in a lot of ways. But it is drought. Flood rainfall patterns. Those are all things that no matter where you are on the spectrum, on climate, we can all see that happening through our lived experiences. So back to resilience. We need to plan for resilience. We need to plan to be able to, um, when, when, when things happen, when, when, when we have dry times, when we have wet times that we're able to get back, back to normal quickly, that we're able to recover. So we need to plan for resilience. We need to get involved. And we know that things are a little wonky now, whether whether it's our infrastructure that is reaching its lifetime or whether it's a climate variability that's coming at us, we all need to get involved to help find the solutions for that.
Cliff Kaplan [00:59:11] Thanks. So, as you all know, this is being recorded for the radio. So what I've been told we're supposed to do now is pause the action like I have. And then I am going to say thank you very much to our panelists. And then I'll invite everybody to give a warm round of applause. And then we'll go do Q&A. So that's that's the program from here. And this Mike will go on that stand for for Q&A. Okay. Well, I just really want to thank our panelists so much, Troy Dorman, Mark Pearson, Rebecca Gibson and Jennifer Walker. Thank you for this discussion and for sharing your perspectives and expertize. Let's give them a round of applause. Perfect. Okay, cool. So it's an audience Q&A, if you want. If you have a question, come on up to this microphone over here and we'll get it answered. Yes.
Nathan Cone [01:00:21] Please. We're recording. Got to go on the web.
Weir Labatt [01:00:33] My question is really in a whole different world than what you all have talked about. And that's the that is the the the areas where we're very deficient in the law. And I'm talking about state law and the fact that Troy talks about one water and yet we have groundwater law, which doesn't talk to surface water law. We've got the counties where most of your growth is coming and probably true in most counties. It's going to the counties because they haven't the county commissioners have no ordinance making power. And I could probably go on and on about. We're not going to solve our problems until we get the proper framework from the legal structure and from legislation that comes out of Austin. And I would hope that maybe in the next program you have is maybe directed to that element, not so much the construction and the funding and the local politics, but what you can't do because the law doesn't let you do it. And I would just make one comment. This is this is not a maybe it's a political statement with a current legislature. You're not going to enact any of the laws that. Solve the at least the two problems I talked about. They're not. They're not. They won't even talk to you. I've been before the legislature for 35 years and you can't you can't get them to talk about coordination of groundwater and surface water law or giving the counties ordinance-making power. So maybe that's not a question. It's just a statement that you're solving problems at the local level, but you need help at the state level from a political standpoint.
Jennifer Walker [01:02:31] So thank you very much for your comment, Mr. Labatt. Very duly noted. And I don't think I think in the Hill country that the connection between surface water and groundwater is apparent to all of us. It is it is stark here. We we all see it and understand it. And we know that that it's real. So I and into your comment about the legislature, we absolutely need water champions. We do not have nearly as many water champions at the legislature as we used to. We need folks that are really knowledgeable about water and that takes all of us. To elect those people or to go talk to the people that are there right now and to help them understand water resources issues and why they're important and what their role is in helping to solve some of these things. So it doesn't just happen and it's great. We've had some really excellent leadership of the legislature, really knowledgeable about water, but we just we don't we don't have a lot of that. Now, not to say that there aren't people that know a lot about it, but we need we need lots of them. And we need folks working together for solutions to help us tackle some of these water issues. Looking at a city and the whole country that's trying to responsibly manage its water resources, but they cannot manage subdivisions coming in and and and manage water the water that they use. And it just it throws plans. Askew is a really hard thing to deal with and to plan for the future when you can't really plan for the future. So that's very difficult. So great. Great comment. Last question. We hear you. We need water champions. Surface water and groundwater are totally connected. We all know it. And I think these these one water solutions that Troy and I and others have been talking about really, really acknowledge and try to work within that paradigm that that we're that we operate in a water cycle and we don't have separate pots and I'll pass it over to Troy.
Troy Dorman [01:04:42] Spot on. Can I. How are you? I'm just kidding. Well, let me again plug the regional flood planning groups. There are 15 of those regional flood planning groups across the state of Texas. One of the chapters in the regional flood plan is legislative recommendations. The each of the regional flood planning groups is collecting those legislative recommendations from all of the stakeholders, which includes the general public two or any of the water utility providers. We have flood control districts, we have counties, we have cities. We have electric utilities. Talk about somebody who's really at risk from climate change. Not having cooling water to run a power plants can be a problem. But that's where I would encourage everybody to put that input in into the regional flood plans to try to help the legislature to understand what the need is. Now, we are planning 30 years into the future too, and we're supposed to be looking at flood risk 30 years in the future. How are we supposed to plan for that? If counties can not regulate any of the development that's coming into there is there's no way to do it. The only thing I think we can try to do is to put dollar signs on these plans and on the risks and see if that changes minds.
Rebeca Gibson [01:06:03] I would also add that I'm going to I'm going to speak a little bit loosely about something that I've heard really great things about, but there's much better information on the interwebs. Isn't that what you like to call it, Bill on the Internet. But Hays County and if any of you are here from Hays County or Hays County commissioners, please tell me has done a really extensive study and I believe what they put together is more of an incentive type program for conservation development, for conservation neighborhoods. So it's not a statutory authority in terms of regulating development, but there's they have some carrots they can dangle to entice people to develop responsibly. And so I think it really takes a big human component for people to choose to build differently, to use different practices, to have low flow, you know, appliances and and things like that. When, when people want it that way, the laws will follow. So I think in a big way, it really has to start with the people and people have to choose that type of development. Well, it can it can start both ways, come from both sides. Right. But the piece about the statutory authority, I agree with you that that's very frustrating and it feels like there's regional relevance in what counties can or cannot have input on or regulatory authority over. There's a couple of unique counties out in West Texas that were eventually granted the rights to regulate outdoor lighting around the McDonald Observatory. So that was a win. You know this, don't you? I but anyway, great, great point. And I think that that's a real, real issue that we'll have to find keep keep trying to find creative solutions to work through.
Cliff Kaplan [01:08:14] Let's take another question.
Walter M. [01:08:20] My name is Walter Moldenauer and I'm from a little county to the north that is not doesn't have much going on Gillespie County. There is so much going on that Duane both cannot keep up with the wastewater permitting. And there is so much going on that we don't know where the water is coming from. So how do we implement all these ideas and plans into a overall plan for the whole county? You know.
Jennifer Walker [01:08:51] Like that end of the table.
Nathan Cone [01:08:54] Yeah.
Rebeca Gibson [01:08:55] What kind of stuff? Yeah.
Troy Dorman [01:08:59] Uh, I think you already answered the question. It's not really about the technology. It's not really about the know how. It's not really about the desire of anybody to do it. It's about whether or not there's a way to get it done within the framework of state law that we currently have. That's the challenge right now. Um. We we can plan at a regional level. We can plan I mean, we can plan at a county level. It's it takes, I would say, a groundswell of community support and public involvement and voter involvement to get that going and to sustain it.
Cliff Kaplan [01:09:40] I'll just add, we don't usually tout what Austin or Travis County is doing as necessarily the best example for anywhere else in Texas. But they do have Travis County, even though it is, it doesn't really have very much special privileges, so to speak, for being an urban county. They do have a county wide land, water and transportation plan that they created. I want to say about ten years ago, maybe just under that and it doesn't have any ability to enforce. You know, so this looks at where do they want to see development? Where do they want to see open space conservation? Where are they going to invest in infrastructure to facilitate the rest? And it doesn't allow them to enforce anything they can't say to a developer. No, because you're you're not where we want to see our development. But it does indicate to the development community where things will be made more easy for them based on other investments that the county's making like infrastructure. So it's an example to look at. Of course, if a Gillespie County were to do a county wide plan like that, it wouldn't the process and the outcome wouldn't be anything like what Travis County has done, but it's something that's worth knowing about and taking a look at.
Troy Dorman [01:11:00] I was going to add one thing I just thought about and others could probably jump in and say more about this. But the groundwater management districts across the state of Texas can help to regulate withdrawal of groundwater, which can influence how development occurs within the groundwater districts. You can probably speak to that even more than me. The other thing I was going to say is one of the things that we've been looking at in the regional flood planning is the National Flood Insurance Program, ordinances that every county and every city has. Most counties don't realize that they can regulate beyond what's in on the FEMA flood plain map. So there is a lot more that can be done. And actually, most counties today across the country are really not implementing the national the FEMA floodplain regulation. I call it the NFIP. That's really what it is. They're really not implementing it the way it was intended to be implemented when it was put in place 30 years ago. Pretty much every new development that is supposed that comes into any county is supposed to identify where there are flood risks on that property. In most cases, that's just not being done because nobody really knows that it's a requirement. So there are things that can be done. You can also increase again, increase those ordinances and make them more stringent than the base requirement that FEMA has. That's what I do all the time. I help write ordinances. If anybody's interested in that, be happy to talk to them about it. You know, now, the next two years, any time, because I have a model ordinance that can be implemented at a county or city level to help out.
Rebeca Gibson [01:12:36] That it's great. I just was going to mention as well, I'm I can't code it, but I'm pretty certain in Bender County there is a water availability study requirement for a certain development over a certain size. And I did want I mentioned you probably know this too, but Bandera County may be the only river authority and groundwater district in the state of Texas, if I'm not mistaken. Yeah, that's pretty good.
Cliff Kaplan [01:13:06] And the other question.
Ira Y. [01:13:16] So I'm Ira Yates from Austin and Iraan, Texas, in between. My question is, with two and a half million people coming to the Hill country in the next few years. Where would you put those people to satisfy what your particular interests are, whether you're Audubon or your water or your city person? Where would you put those people? Now, I have a great deal of experience and I know where I would put those people. Now, how do you get that to happen? Our state laws are not going to change anywhere in the in the speed that needs to be done the way we're doing it. This is not a technical issue. These are legal issues to accomplish what our goals need to be. My question is, who is going to present a master plan for the Hill country that says we're two and a half, people could go most efficiently? And secondly, what rules and regulations would need to be developed in order to accomplish that? Until we know what our target is, whether it's the moon, Mars or a hill country, that's better than what we're going to have until we know what that target is and know what tools we need to accomplish that so that we then then go to the legislature and say, this is what we need. We need a target. Who's going to do that? Can we ask Mr. Yates where he would put those people? Or maybe we'll do answers first.
Cliff Kaplan [01:15:13] So the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network, which is a collaborative of scores of conservation organizations that work in the region and is kind of convened by the Hill Country Alliance. We are working on a plan called the National Infrastructure Plan for the Hill Country that looks county by county at what are the biggest conservation needs. What are the challenges to meeting those conservation goals? And what kinds of in some cases, what kinds of policies would need to be put in place? I don't know that the project, which I'm not directly involved in personally and is really just gearing up now, Will. I'm just thinking it will it will answer part of the question that you're that you're proposing, Ira. And it's an important question about where will all of these people go that we know are coming to the region. So that project in particular will address a big piece of that and will include maps of the region, county by county and region wide. That's the natural infrastructure plan. And and we'll also have a big public engagement component to it. So we're going to invite everyone who's here and everyone, you know, to come and participate in that process once it gets underway.
Troy Dorman [01:16:43] I was going to say first, can we define the goals? I mean, that that's the first thing we've got to sit down and do is understand. What do we mean by we want to preserve the whole country? There's a lot I mean, there's a lot of really good information out there, but we kind of all got to agree on it first from where I stand today. I think our opportunity is those regional flood plains. The state of Texas and FEMA are establishing what's called base level engineering flood plains that go down to a 64 acre watershed across the entire state over the next 2 to 3 years. So that is the first cut that is going to identify a lot of the repairing or it's going to identify most of the riparian corridors and floodplains and stream networks and associated wetlands across the entire state. And so right now, it's not intended to be a regulatory FEMA floodplain, but communities can adopt that. This is what I was talking about earlier. Part of their ordinance they can adopt that is what's called best available data, and the community can adopt that and regulate to that. It just so happens that Mr. Booth up in Gillespie County is regulating to that day because I've been doing some work up there with them. And what that means is it's at least setting aside the majority of those riparian corridors to be preserved. You know, as, again, natural space, ecological preserve areas, green infrastructure. So that I think that's a that's a first step we can take right now, work with the communities to adopt that base level engineering as part of their regulatory maps or the regulatory best available information.
Jennifer Walker [01:18:22] Ira, great question. Got us thinking as usual. I think I think your point, Troy, about establishing the baseline and the things that were special that we think are special, that we want to protect, what are our goals? You know, the things that that I want to protect, i.e. like not drop the people there might be different than other folks. And we need to think about that as the whole country when to think about, you know, what do we need as resources, you know, the water, the land, everything, keeping our rivers clean and pristine. Pristine. How do we do all that? It feels like a really, really big mountain to climb. But the thing is, is we can't tell the people not to come. We're going to figure out solutions. And if we're not trying to plan in advance and take that long view and do some, you know, some some long term thinking while we're driving down the highway, then, then we're definitely going to be caught flat footed. So we do need to really think about that, about what our goal is and what we're trying to accomplish. The natural infrastructure plan I've been involved in some of the development meetings for that is a huge opportunity to really kind of try to map that out. And the Hill Country Conservation Network is making a big investment in getting this done. And it's going to it's really a sweeping effort. There's a big group of folks like meeting biweekly about it, and then there's a bigger advisory council and it's very expansive on who can be on that. So please come talk to me if you're interested in that. And there's going to be a community input as well, because it really is like let's take stock at where we are and where we want to be and what are the places that we really do need to make sure from a certain perspective protect in order to make sure that we can absorb these people and not, you know, crater in the process.
Cliff Kaplan [01:20:24] Yeah. Go ahead, Ira. And then we'll have time for two more questions. Go ahead.
Ira Y. [01:20:27] Real quickly. You mentioned going down to the 64 square miles acres. So we've done that. HCA has done that for the hill country. I did it in 1980, 81 for the Circle C Ranch in Austin when they were developing our ordinances. What it says is it takes 30% of the land off the market when you import and impose those regulations. We're talking about repairing setbacks under the original City of Austin ordinances, 30%. My point being is if you're going to educate the public about what needs to be done, we need to start now on those sorts of big issues, because the eminent domain issue alone legally is going to thwart most of our efforts. So that's why I asked my question about how we can get this moving quicker. We can't wait two years of study and talk and then propose a minimal ordinance. It needs to be a grandiose district. Ordinance needs to be a hill country ordinance because our topography and our nature is unique.
Troy Dorman [01:21:42] And we. Let me follow onto that. We, the City of Bernie, just passed in 2019, passed an ordinance that does require we didn't call them buffers or called drainage way protection zones. There's a very important reason behind that. And that was to. Encourage the reestablishment of stream, the stream network where it had been damaged or removed by agriculture. We went down to a 25 acre watershed and established what's called a local floodplains. It is required now for all new development in the City of Bernie that if there's not an identified floodplain, although we've gone through and done some rough estimates of it because the technology is out there, you can do it very easily now. We only it's only about 9 to 10% of the land in Burnie. We did something similar in Bull Verde, wasn't quite down to 25 acres, drained away protections on stream buffers. It was only about 8% there. So it can be done. It 8 to 12% of the land being set aside does not stop development. Those cities are both booming, but it is protecting those natural spaces. The other thing that we did is we set them up as nature trails, right? So those corridors can be connected together so that there's active recreation. It helps with mobility, it helps with, you know, heat, island effect, all those things. So there are example audiences out there. I know Hill Country Alliance and others that I've been speaking to, Greater Advocate for Alliance. They have those ordinances up on their website. If anybody's interested in them, you can go look at them. But those are the steps. Yes. That we need to be doing. We did all that under the FEMA floodplain ordinance. That has to be in place by every community that is in the flood insurance program. So the tools are there. We just have to start doing it.
Cliff Kaplan [01:23:32] We're going to take two more questions. But before we do, I just want to let you all know about two documents that we have at the back table that these were produced by the Hill Country Alliance and the National Wildlife Federation and other partners in the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network. One of these, Lee, is holding them up right now. One of them is this one water guide for the Hill Country. This book this book describes what one water is all about. And that's what we were discussing tonight about how we think of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater as all just water resources. And we try and be holistic in our approach to managing that resource. It talks about what it is, but more importantly, just as importantly, it talks about examples of one water projects from our region that folks on this panel were all involved in. And and then it has a list of engineers and engineering firms who do that kind of work, including choice firm half associates. So that's one document up there. The other is a state of the Hill Country report, which I mean, Ira and Mr. Labat there, their questions are are bringing up just how much of this region's natural resource base, beauty and quality of life we're losing as a result of our failure to to really manage the growth. And, of course, we're we're really hamstrung in managing that growth because of the tools that our local governments don't have, in particular county governments. This state of the Hill country report measures, you know, in some cases what that loss looks like, in some cases, small successes or medium sized successes. And we'll be updating that report on a regular basis. So I encourage you to take a look at these reports that are also online, if you prefer to look at them that way at our website Hill Country Alliance dot org. If you're going to take one with you, I would ask that you not just take it, browse it and chuck it, obviously. Please, if you're going to take one with you, take it, check it out and then either pass it on to a neighbor or bring it to a leader in your community and talk with them about it. And if they want to talk more about it, have them call the Hill Country Alliance and we'd love to talk with them about it. So with those plugs out of the way, two more questions. Go ahead, Chris, do you have a question? Yes.
Audience member [01:26:01] Thank you. Thank you all for being here. I have a question about the federal funds. We've been hearing a lot about round $272 million. That's a number that's been tossed around quite a bit, especially recently, which sounds like a great lot of money, but spread across the country is maybe not so great. There's probably more than 272 rural communities that could benefit from from $1,000,000 each, as I think about up and coming, voters up and coming, landowners up and coming. Hopefully local policymakers might be folks here who would run for office one day. If you could plant one seed for this once in a generation opportunity, as it's been called, for these folks to think about, for college students to think about what would you want them to walk out of here with?
Jennifer Walker [01:26:54] What leaps to the front of my mind. And with time to reflect, this may not be my final answer, but we are going to. So it's. So the infrastructure bill was huge. I don't actually know the full amount of the infrastructure bill. I can't remember because I'm so focused on Texas is getting 2.9 billion for water infrastructure over five years. So that's what's very important to us. The amount of investment nationwide is just staggering. It is once in a generation. All this investment in our water infrastructure is really great. All this this planning and thinking about one water and thinking about alternative water management strategies and a different way to do things so that we can have these like multiple beneficial outcomes in our communities is really great. One of the things that is very concerning to me in the back of my head is who's going to who's going to plan, build and run these things now and into the future? We are facing a real shortage and and and people power and technical expertize maybe not immediately right this second, but into the future. We need trained water resources professionals. We need people that are are looking at water policy. We need people working and and helping to make decisions for our communities. But what we really need is water resources professionals. We need folks to be engineers. We need folks to study fluvial geomorphology. We need folks to study the connection between how we manage our water resources and ecological outcomes. We need folks to know how to treat water and wastewater for different levels. We don't aren't going to have just centralized water and wastewater treatment plants in the future. So I think for me. I would love for young people and I've advised my son the same thing. Of course he didn't listen to me, but but, you know, really look into that. It's a great career to get into. You're serving your community and there's a lots and lots of benefits, lots and lots of opportunities and lots of benefit that you can serve.
Rebeca Gibson [01:29:12] I guess I would just want to add that sometimes it's hard to imagine all of the things that go into running a community when you're just experience experiencing your community from from your perspective and in your day to day life and with your family and your friends. I know that there was a lot I didn't understand about municipal government until I got into municipal government, but even just a whole community together, there's always moving parts. There's always projects that need to be accomplished. But if communities can be real, and if you can contribute to being a positive, you know, an attribute in your community, to being a community asset and to being considerate to one another and our neighbors that we can, I think, really operate way more efficiently, efficiently and sustainably by really working together.
Cliff Kaplan [01:30:13] I would say I'm just going to stand up so I can see you. I would just say, don't wait. If if you're interested in conservation or you're interested in community leadership or you're interested in the technical sides of water resources, there are opportunities to get involved either as a volunteer or as an intern or potentially employment. But I don't know quite as much about that. But come talk to me or talk to Lia in the back and we'll help you find those opportunities. So just don't wait. Why not start now? We have time for just one more question. If somebody has one. Otherwise, maybe this message to the future is a good place to end.
Troy Dorman [01:30:56] Can I add to that?
Cliff Kaplan [01:30:57] Oh, go ahead.
Troy Dorman [01:30:58] I was just going to say, you know, there's a lot of things we've talked about here. There's a lot of ways to get involved, find one that you're passionate about and go for it. You know, get involved in something. If it's if there's a local group here that meets every weekend and picks up trash out the Guadalupe River, go do that. That makes a big difference for our ecological systems. Go to city council, talk to your elected officials. Find that. Go to Washington, D.C., talk to the you know, the elected officials there. But find something that you're passionate about. You don't have to do everything but make a little difference. It starts with even just every day in your house, use less water, find ways to to select landscaping that doesn't have to have as much irrigation. Just do all those little things and tell everybody that you know about the same thing and try to get them to do it, too.
Rebeca Gibson [01:31:49] Wasn't there a teenager who was elected to city council in Kerrville? That's right. It was it at one point. Okay. I just thought that was interesting. Yeah.
Cliff Kaplan [01:32:04] Well, with that, we'll wrap it up. Thank you all so much. I'm really glad that we got to have this discussion and that we got to have an in-person event. Schreiner Again, thanks again to Schreiner for hosting us. Thank you, Chris. Thanks to the whole university. Thank you to Texas Public Radio for making these events available to anybody with Internet access or a radio in the San Antonio area. And. And everybody. Have a good night and get home safe. Thanks.