San Antonio and Austin are growing fast, but the cities and communities along the Interstate 35 corridor between the two are growing even faster, exacerbating the environmental challenges facing the entire region.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality hosted its first Central Texas Environmental Summit on Thursday in Schertz to bring together the people and agencies responsible for tackling those challenges in the hopes of fostering problem-solving collaboration.
“This region has a proven track record of working together,” said Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein, pointing to the early action compact with the Environmental Protection Agency that allowed the San Antonio area to avoid federal oversight by taking voluntary pollution-reduction measures.
“Today, the issue is water,” Rubinstein said. “The drought is hitting all of us, and there isn't any one of us who knows more than all of us.”
Tapping that collective wisdom, he said, is what the summit is all about.
The state's water-planning efforts, and how to fund the projects necessary to secure additional water, dominated the event, attended by at least 200 people.
Texas' population is expected to increase by 82 percent by 2060, and its total water needs by 130 percent, according to the Texas Water Development Board, which will likely vote to approve its draft 2012 state water plan this month.
The water plan recommends hundreds of local water projects to secure the additional 8.3 million acre feet necessary to keep Texas humming along. The projected cost is $53 billion.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and others emphasized the importance of passing Proposition 2, the proposed constitutional amendment on Tuesday's ballot that would allow the water development board to issue bonds for water and wastewater projects.
Those projects are major investments, Van de Putte acknowledged, but they're also job generators. She said every $1 billion spent equals 13,000 jobs.
Collaboration within regions and among agencies will be crucial to meeting the state's water needs, said Rep. Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, who has worked on state water policy for decades.
“As a state, our job is to help you, the grass roots,” he said.
Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, called the daylong meeting a great first step. She hopes attendees will come back together to create a “greenprint for growth,” like the one recently created by Envision Central Texas and others for the Austin area.
“This is one of the fastest-growing regions” in Texas, she said, “so we really need to get started.”