Senator files bills on water rights

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

Jan. 10, 2017 at 10:48 p.m.
Updated Jan. 11, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Lawmakers in the 85th Legislative session that began Tuesday will continue to try to expedite the procedure that gives the public a say in environmental decisions.

During the last session, legislators passed

Senate Bill 709, which limited the timeframe the public can protest an environmental application. Environmentalists say the bill, which became law in September 2015, also shifted the burden of proof from industry to members of the public whose land, air and water could be affected.

In a news release, Sen. Van Taylor R-Plano said Senate Bill 225, which he filed in November, proposes the same type of reforms for contested cases involving water rights.

In response to a request for an interview, Taylor's Chief of Staff Lonnie Dietz sent a link to a news release on SB 225 and SB 226, also filed by Taylor.

"These two bills seek to eliminate bureaucratic red tape that prevents Texas from accessing the water it needs to grow," according to the news release.

SB 225 caps the civil-trial like procedure used by the public to take part in environmental decision making to nine months for water rights. But the bill does allow a State Office of Administrative Hearings judge to extend a hearing in order to ensure a party's right to due process or any other Constitutional right, according to the news release.

SB 226 would exempt a water right holder from having to provide notice, undergo a technical review and, possibly, contested case hearing requirements for three types of amendments. Those amendments that would be exempt would be adding a purpose of use, adding a place of use and changing a diversion point within a continuous tract, according to the news release.

The water right amendments covered by SB 226 aren't really seen as controversial, said Myron Hess, who manages the Texas Water Program in the Austin office of the National Wildlife Federation.

The amendments would apply to people who are buying another party's water right or moving where they pull water from Texas rivers, Hess said, which is different than a person applying for a whole new water right with the potential to affect other users.

"My initial thought is that those look pretty noncontroversial," Hess said about the two senate bills.

But Hess expects more to come on water right hearings as legislators continue to file more bills.

"I do expect more on this. We are definitely following that issue," he said. "I'm not expecting a major water session, but you just never know who is going to file what."



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