The current near record-breaking drought in Texas has brought concern to Walker County and the rest of the state as governments fight to preserve forests and water supplies.
Over 650 of the state’s water systems, including Huntsville’s, are under mandatory water restrictions due to the three-year-long drought.
The Texas Legislature soaked up all hopes of allocating $2 billion worth of the state’s Rainy Day Fund to finance water projects by the Texas Water Development Board, in a vote on April 29. Gov. Rick Perry and House Republicans supported House Bill-11 and fought for weeks but failed to pass the legislation as Democrats pushed for the funds to be used for education.
“The people of Texas expect their elected officials to address the water needs of our state, and we will do just that,” Perry said in response to the failed legislation. “This issue is too important to leave its fate uncertain, and I will work with lawmakers to ensure we address this need in a fiscally responsible manner.”
According to The Texas Tribune, Perry said he would call for a special session of the Legislature if the water issue went unresolved.
Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) told NPR’s State Impact that similar additional legislation might not pass because of the small amount of time the legislature has left in session and the two party’s disagreements.
“[A resolution] very well could push us into a special session this summer if we don’t reconcile that,” Larson said.
While local government agencies are cooperating with their respective water restrictions, many of them have enacted their own burn ban policies in order to preserve property and forestry.
A wildfire sparked in June 2011 north of Huntsville that charred over 3 thousand acres and temporarily displaced dozens of Huntsvillians. Walker County Judge Danny Pierce signed a burn ban that’s still in effect today on Nov. 26, 2012 in response to escalating drought conditions and depleting water supplies.
Two separate wildfires during September 2011 in Bastrop County and Montgomery County collectively destroyed over 1,700 homes and burned over 80 square miles of land. Both counties had burn bans already in effect. Firefighters from all around southeast Texas fought all the blazes with unfavorable weather conditions due to the extensive drought and dry land.
More of the state is suffering from exceptional drought now than in April 2011. According to WatrNews, on April 16, about 13 percent of the state was experiencing exceptional drought while only about 10 percent was in April 2011. However, none of these statistics compare to those in October 2011 when the drought peaked and about 90 percent of the state suffered from exceptional drought.
The battle isn’t over for water in Texas. A fight over the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma reached the Supreme Court in late April. Texas wants to buy 150 billion gallons of water from Oklahoma, but the Sooner State is refusing to sell, citing a state law prohibiting the sale of water during times of drought.
Another option for the Texas Legislature to take on the water issue is SJR 1, a joint resolution that allocates $800 million from the Rainy Day Fund to water, education and infrastructure if approved by Texans on a referendum in November.