Mar 27, 2023 - News

State's surplus money could protect natural resources

Martin Dies Jr. State Park outside Jasper. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

A bill under consideration in the Legislature calls for the creation of a Texas Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would use surplus money to expand public parks and preserve water resources.

Driving the news: Republican state Rep. Justin Holland of Rockwall filed House Bill 3165 this month to take $2 billion from Texas' rainy-day fund, which is expected to reach $27.1 billion in the next two-year budget, to create a dedicated fund to protect natural resources.

Why it matters: Texas ranks 35th in the nation for state park acreage per capita and is predicted to be unable to keep up with water demand for a growing population in the coming decades.

By the numbers: According to a January report by Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, less than 4% of land in Texas is under some sort of protection.

  • The state's water supply is projected to drop 18% by 2070, while population growth is expected to increase demand 9% in the same time period, per a report from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy and Texas 2036, a nonpartisan think tank.

Details: Administrators of the new fund would be able to award grants for the creation of new parks, projects that would restore wildlife habitats, and efforts to improve water quality or enhance river flow.

  • If the bill passes, a constitutional amendment creating the fund would be on the November ballot.

What they're saying: Suzanne Scott, state director of The Nature Conservancy, tells Axios the state can use the stewardship of the Edwards Aquifer, San Antonio's primary water resource, as a model.

  • "The Edwards Aquifer protection program is actually an example of the type of conservation that we'd like for this fund to do in other places throughout the state. This is really an example of a nature-based solution for source water protection."

What we're watching: What happens in the House Committee on Natural Resources. The bill was referred there on March 15.


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