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Texas Water Development Board central to reservoir planning process

 Bois d'Arc Lake has been filling up with spring rains in recent weeks.
Bois d'Arc Lake has been filling up with spring rains in recent weeks.

Less than a decade after the passage of SWIFT, two new reservoirs are under construction.

There can be no doubt that water is the most valuable commodity in Texas, eclipsing even oil and natural gas. Without water, there can be no growth, no industry, no commerce and no way of life.

Accordingly, just as Texas regulates the oil and gas industries through its Railroad Commission, the state has a board of appointed officials who oversee development of the state’s myriad water systems.

That is where the Texas Water Development Board comes into play.

Brooke Paup of Austin is the current chair of the three-member appointed board, which at the moment has just two members. Paup said Texas statute requires the board to be composed of a lawyer, a financial planner and an engineer. “I am the lawyer on the board,” Paup said, adding that Kathleen Jackson of Beaumont is the engineer. Paup said she doesn’t know when the state will fill the financial planner.

Prior to being appointed to the board, Paup served as director of legislative affairs for the Texas Comptroller’s Office, leading a team of staffers to deal with statutory tax reforms. She also is the former deputy division chief of intergovernmental relations and former special assistant for policy and research for the Texas Attorney General’s Office. It was there that she helped draft legislation aimed at improving water-delivery service to the state. Paup has 15 years of experience working in Texas government.

Paup earned her bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and her law degree from Texas Tech University.

“The mission of our agency is to ensure we have enough water to sustain the state’s needs,” Paup said. “I basically run a small bank” that handles grant applications and distributes funds to local water districts to carry out their projects, she said.

Paup noted that the Water Development board is concerned with three basic elements in fulfilling its mission.

“We work on the science of studying groundwater and surface water needs,” she said. Paup then turned to the planning stage, where the organization she called “my small agency” work with 16 water planning groups and 15 flood planning groups around the state. Finally, she talked about the financial aspect that enables the Water Development Board to “provide loans local governments and grants for (agriculture) conservation.”

The water and flood planning organizations are run almost entirely by volunteers, said Paup. “They all have bylaws and they bring in stakeholders” with particular interests or expertise in the planning for water development.

Texas reorganized the Water Development Board in 2013 after the “record drought of 2011” ravaged much of Texas, Paup said. The state then set up the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT.

During the 2013 Legislature, Paup was working on the staff of the Texas attorney general and “helped draft legislation that allowed construction of Bois d’Arc Lake and Lake Ralph Hall. She said the Water Development Board has delivered $1.5 billion for the development of Bois d’Arc Lake, which she said is “filling up fast. I think it might even be ahead of schedule.”

She pointed out that Bois d’Arc Lake eventually will provide water for 1.7 million North Texans. Paup credits the SWIFT program for making it possible for the state to build its first surface-water reservoir in 30 years. She described the SWIFT program as “the gold standard for infrastructure funding for the entire country.”

“I never thought in my lifetime that we would see the development of not one reservoir, but two of them,” Paup said of the Bois d’Arc Lake and Lake Ralph Hall projects that are being developed simultaneously.

She is unaware of any future surface water projects being planned at the moment, but is proud of the fact that since its creation in the 1950s, the Texas Water Development Board has delivered around $32 billion for water projects statewide.

Galen Roberts, an assistant deputy for water resources at the North Texas Municipal Water District, said his agency “has a good working relationship” with the Water Development Board. “We engage regularly with them on projects,” such as Bois d’Arc Lake.

“They’re a good partner to have and we’re excited about the progress of the lake,” Roberts said. “We’re all working for the same thing, which is to meet the state’s water needs and goals,” he said.

“We are a small agency,” Paup said of the Water Development Board, adding that “we never have had more than 400 full-time employees.” She noted that the Attorney General’s Office, where she worked previously, employs 4,000 people.

“We have a huge mission,” Paup said, “and we are working very hard at completing it.”