AGC Interviews Newly Appointed Chairman of the Texas Water Development Board

Written by  Art Daniel, Chairman, M/U Division

In September of 2013, Governor Perry appointed Carlos Rubinstein to chair the newly reorganized Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). From 2009-2013, Carlos served as a commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). He is the Texas representative to the Western States Water Council; the Border Governors' Conference Sustainable Development worktable; the Governmental Advisory Committee, which advises the EPA Administrator on environmental concerns regarding NAFTA, the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation; and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Rubinstein is a former member of the Texas Environmental Flows Advisory Group and the Good Neighbor Environmental Board, an independent federal advisory committee that assists the president and Congress on environmental infrastructure needs along the U.S. border with Mexico. He has also served as deputy executive director of TCEQ and as Rio Grande Watermaster. He is the past Texas representative to the Border Governors' Conference Water worktable and a former city manager for the City of Brownsville. Rubinstein received a bachelor's degree in biology from Pan American University.

The TWDB will be very busy for the foreseeable future, as it is charged with developing rules and regulations for prioritizing projects in the state water plan and managing revenue from the SWIFT (the fund created by voters in 2013 to provide revolving funds to finance projects in the state water plan). Recently, I spoke with Chairman Rubinstein to see how the board is progressing on these significant charges.

AGC: Texas is expected to nearly double in population by 2060. This growth will probably leave a water shortage in the trillions of gallons. How is the Texas Water Development Board addressing the anticipated shortage?

CR: TWDB addresses future shortages through efforts in three main areas: we oversee the state’s water planning process, which identifies where water deficits will be and how to supply those needs; we offer low-cost financial assistance to Texas communities to help them provide water and wastewater infrastructure for their citizens; and we are engaged in numerous types of scientific research on water. Our focus right now involves developing rules for administering the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) and soliciting input from the public on the SWIFT.

AGC: How does the 50-year water plan guide the TWDB?

CR: The state water plan is based on local input in which 16 regional water-planning groups identify who, within each respective region, will need water and how much they will need over the next 50 years. The regional water plans also define strategies for meeting the water needs in those communities. Because of the local effort involved and information accumulated for the regional water plans and the state water plan, TWDB understands how communities can address their water needs.

AGC: Last November, Proposition 6 was overwhelmingly passed by Texas voters and made $2 billion available for the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT). From your perspective, what message was sent by the voters?

CR: I believe the message is that Texans understand and appreciate how critical water is to our future. The drought of the last few years has taught us we need to think and act with great innovation and commitment to address our water needs.

AGC: What is the TWDB doing to prepare for the implementation of the SWIFT?

CR: We are actively seeking Texans’ comments on the SWIFT. To that end, we’ve been holding Board work sessions around the state to make it easier for citizens to attend and voice their opinions. We’ve also held three public meetings in Austin devoted exclusively to SWIFT comments. TWDB staff is now writing draft rules for administering the SWIFT and prioritizing projects. The draft rules will be available in June, after which we will hold additional meetings for public comment. At this time, the TWDB anticipates adopting final rules in December. Meanwhile, Board members, our Agriculture and Rural Ombudsman, and staff are traveling the state to listen to what Texas citizens have to say and to share information about the SWIFT and TWDB.

AGC: When will the SWIFT be available to fund projects?

CR: The funds will be available in 2015. The statutes that created the SWIFT set up several milestones that must be accomplished before the funds can be disbursed. On June 1st, regional planning groups must submit their draft prioritization of projects. On September 1st, the planning groups must submit their final prioritization list. On that same date, the SWIFT advisory committee, composed of six legislators and a representative from the state comptroller’s office, should submit recommendations regarding the SWIFT. Finally, the SWIFT legislation calls for us to have rules adopted no later than March 2015, but the TWDB is looking to adopt the rules in December of this year.

AGC: What types of projects are eligible for funding from the SWIFT?

CR: A project must be in the state water plan to be eligible for funding. The scope of projects in the state water plan is as diverse as the geography of the state but includes conservation, desalination, and reuse, as well as drilling new groundwater wells and building new pipelines, among many others. The SWIFT legislation also directs the TWDB to undertake to utilize at least 20 percent of the funding for conservation projects and at least 10 percent for rural projects.

AGC: What will be the benefits to rural Texas from the SWIFT?

CR: The SWIFT will allow rural Texans to have access to loans with lower interest rates than they could get on the open market, longer repayment terms, or deferral of payments until a project is complete and bringing in revenue. Meeting the needs of rural Texas is very important to myself and TWDB.

AGC: What will the TWDB do to encourage the acceleration or advancement of eligible projects?

CR: TWDB is pursuing a very aggressive schedule to adopt the SWIFT. The SWIFT legislation calls for us to have rules adopted no later than March 2015, but TWDB accelerated the schedule so that the rules should be adopted by December of this year. Funding of projects will begin in 2015 following a request for applications and the prioritization of project funding applications by the Board.

Regional water planning groups are in the midst of prioritizing their projects and have to submit their draft prioritization lists to us in June. TWDB will review and provide comments on the lists before the planning groups submit final prioritized lists in September. This review process will help expedite the uniform prioritization of projects, which will in turn help TWDB in its own review of projects when communities apply for funding.

AGC: How will local communities gain access to the funds?

CR: Communities must have projects in the state water plan to be eligible for funding. Once the funds are available in 2015, communities can submit an application to TWDB for financial assistance.

AGC: Will the TWDB administer any of the projects?

CR: TWDB will not administer projects. Our role is to provide the financial assistance for them. One of our funding programs, however, enables TWDB to assume a temporary ownership interest in a regional project when the local sponsors are unable to assume the total debt for an optimally sized facility. TWDB requires that the project sponsor repurchase the TWDB’s interest in the project on a payment schedule.

AGC: What level of oversight will TWDB use in managing the funds approved for projects?

CR: The $2 billion investment in the SWIFT is protected by the Texas Treasury Safe Keeping Trust Company (Texas Trust), which the state comptroller oversees. The Texas Trust will be responsible for managing and investing the SWIFT's assets and will submit a written report on the fund each year. An advisory committee composed of the state comptroller, three state senators, and three state representatives will also make recommendations on the Trust's investment policy and how the funds will be used.

The Trust will disburse money from the SWIFT, as directed by TWDB, twice in a state fiscal year. TWDB will manage the administration and disbursement of funds and ensure the SWIFT is being used to fund projects from the state water plan.

AGC: What other programs does the TWDB use to improve the water infrastructure of Texas?

CR: TWDB has a wide variety of financial assistance programs for water and wastewater infrastructure. We also administer flood financial assistance programs. For information on our financial programs, visit our website at (www.twdb.texas.gov/financial/index.asp). Additionally, you can contact our Regional Water Planning and Development teams to discuss the different programs and funding that best fit a particular project.

AGC: Many of our members will be building some of the projects spurred by the SWIFT. How can AGC of Texas and TWDB work together to provide a better water future for Texas?

CR: During the rulemaking process, TWDB encourages everyone to submit comments and suggestions on how best to structure and implement the SWIFT. As local projects are funded by TWDB there should be opportunities in which local communities will be looking for consultants and contractors to help address the infrastructure needs identified in the state water plan.

AGC: As the Chairman of the TWDB, what are your goals for the future of water in Texas?

CR: I want to help Texas ensure that we have enough water to sustain all of our needs and to ensure we have a robust, vibrant economy for years to come.



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