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By Paul Stinson
April 15 — The first window for applications seeking money from Texas's newly created water infrastructure bank yielded 48 proposed projects totaling more than $5 billion, a Texas water official said April 15.
“We were well over-subscribed for the first round of SWIFT,” Bech Bruun, a Texas Water Development Board member, said of applications for funding from State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT). He provided an update on the state of water planning and funding for Texas water projects as the board begins to evaluate the first round of proposals.
Texas voters approved the creation of SWIFT in November 2013 after the previous Texas Legislature voted to create a funding mechanism (H.B. 4) to address the state's previous water supply projects for the next 50 years.
Bruun spoke at the Texas Water 2015 conference, jointly held by Texas American Water Works Association and Water Environment Association of Texas in Corpus Christi.
Seeking to fund up to $800 million in projects during the first round of the applications process, the Texas Water Development Board declared that “it was open for business” following the November 2014 adoption of rules that will guide the operation of the water infrastructure bank. The deadline for proposal submissions was Feb. 3.
Bruun later told Bloomberg BNA that he was encouraged by the response to the first window of applications.
“Geographically, they came from all across the state, from every corner,” he said.
As far as the type of projects, Bruun said he'd received applications across the spectrum in terms of size that would support a large population, noting that the board had received its share of rural applications as well.
“The city of Marfa, for example, submitted an application, so it's a very broad mix, both the geography and the type of project,” he said.
The board is still awaiting staff recommendations on which projects it will provide financial assistance to in the first round of funding. “There's a chance, in theory, that we could accommodate all of the requests,” he said.
Bruun explained that the $5 billion figure took into account projects seeking funding that would be delivered in increments of several years.
“If staff is able to go and work with the applicant in a way that offers terms that they're willing to accept now, in theory, there's a chance we could take care of everybody, so to speak, in the first round,” he said.
The price tag on the current State Water Plan is $53 billion over a 50-year planning horizon, $27 billion of which, Bruun said, is expected to come through some form of state financial assistance.
Board Chairman Carlos Rubinstein told Bloomberg BNA in November 2014 that modeling indicates that the board could satisfy “about $8 billion” of that $27 billion in funding in the first decade.
In the grips of a drought since 2011, Texas is affected by moderate or exceptional drought conditions in 36 percent of the state, according to figures the water board released for the week of April 13, noting continuing improvement, compared to similar drought conditions affecting 64 percent of the state a year earlier.
Amid decreasing reservoir levels in West Texas up through the Panhandle, drought conditions remain or have worsened, according to the board.
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