(interim) Charge(s)!

[updated 1/21/18 to include the Lieutenant Governor’s specific charges on Harvey]

Between regular legislative sessions, the speaker and lieutenant governor assign tasks–called interim charges–to various committees under their purview. The speaker released a single set of charges whereas the lieutenant governor release three rounds, one specific to Harvey on September 28th,  another on October 23rd and a final on October 24th (the last two documents are dated October 23rd, but the lieutenant governors office sent press releases on the dates [23rd and 24th] indicated). Generally, charges are things for committees to look into that may or may not turn into legislation in the next session.

Many of the interim’s water charges are, not surprisingly, Harvey focused, although water resource issues–and groundwater issues–make an appearance. I’ve extracted the water-relevant charges verbatim and included them at the bottom of this post, but I’ll focus the discussion below on groundwater.

The major charge on groundwater appears for the House Committee on Natural Resources under the title “Evaluate the status of groundwater policy in Texas.” This has been a favorite topic of Chairman Larson for several years now and includes a look into aquifer-wide management, permitting, case law, brackish groundwater, data and science needs, and surface-water/groundwater interaction. Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs led by Chairman Perry has a sister charge to make recommendations to ensure that private property rights in groundwater are being sufficiently protected.

Although flooding is obviously a surface-water issue, groundwater plays a role. Even before Harvey, both water committees have been interested in capturing flood waters and injecting them into aquifers (something called aquifer storage and recovery or, more simply, ASR). Employing ASR during a flood has its challenges, namely water quality, including aquifer-clogging sediments.

Harvey affected water wells, for both water suppliers and homeowners, when water of unknown quality seeped into the aquifers (accidental ASR!). My Houston-area contacts tell me that there is not clear guidance for how to deal with wells impacted by flooding (how long to pump, how to test), so this may come up in an interim hearing as well. Further on the contamination side of things, the House Committee on Energy Resources is charged to look at plugging oil and gas wells, a particular issue in Far West Texas.

Meetings for various committees have already started. Texas Legislature Online lists future  house committee hearings and senate committee hearings. Let the policymaking begin!

House Committee on Agriculture & Livestock

1. Review the Texas Department of Agriculture’s and the Texas Animal Health Commission’s role in the response to Hurricane Harvey. Examine the short-term and long-term economic and agricultural impacts to producers in the agriculture and livestock industries in Texas as a result of Harvey. Identify ways to mitigate the impact and prevent substantial losses from Harvey and future natural disasters.

7. Evalate the uses of industrial hemp and the economic feasibility of developing an industrial hemp market under existing or future state and federal regulations. Examine the processing and manufacturing process requirements of multiple bi-products, including feed, food, fiber, cosmetics, supplements, and building materials

House Committee on Appropriations

1. Examine the use of federal funds by state agencies responding to the effects of Hurricane Harvey and identify opportunities to maximize the use of federal funds to reduce the impact of future natural disasters. Also, identify the need for state resources to respond to Harvey relief and recovery efforts, as well as opportunities for state investment in infrastructure projects that will reduce the impact of future natural disasters.

18. Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 85th Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the Committee will also specifically monitor: a. All activities and expenditures related to Hurricane Harvey;

House Committee on Culture, Recreation, & Tourism

1. Review the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s and the Texas Historical Commission’s roles in the response to Hurricane Harvey. Evaluate the economic, recreational, and biological impacts and needed repairs from Harvey as they relate to applicable state agencies and the following areas and industries under the purview of the Committee:

b. Wildlife and fish

f. In addition, provide recommendations on how to allow for a timely recovery of these areas from Harvey, and how to mitigate the impact of, and adequately prepare for, future natural disasters.

2. Study the feasibility of establishing and mobilizing a volunteer contingency of private boat owners through the boat registration and license database administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to assist first responders in search and rescue efforts in natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey.

House Committee on Energy Resources

1. Examine the Railroad Commission of Texas’ (RRC) response to Hurricane Harvey. Study whether current state rules and regulations are sufficient to protect the public, natural resources, environment, infrastructure, and industrial facilities from damage caused by natural disasters. Evaluate options to ensure the availability of fuel reserves for first responders during natural disasters.

8. Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 85th Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the Committee will also specifically consider

b. Adequacy of well-plugging processes and funds

House Committee on Environmental Regulation

1. Examine the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) response and clean-up efforts related to Hurricane Harvey. Study whether current air, water, waste, and wastewater rules and regulations adequately protect the public, natural resources, environment, infrastructure, residential areas, and industrial facilities from damage caused by natural disasters. Evaluate the debris cleanup and removal process and whether current rules and regulations are effective in expediting cleanup efforts. Make recommendations on how natural disaster responses can be improved.

2. Examine how emergency alert systems related to hazardous and chemical releases are organized at the local, state, and federal level and explore ways to improve coordination and efficien

3. Study the permitting, siting, and regulatory processes for solid waste landfills, including municipal solid waste landfills, and whether current rules, regulations, and notice requirements adequately ensure compliance and maximize participation from the public and stakeholders.

House Committee on General Investigating & Ethics

1. Maintain oversight of federal, state, local, and charitable funds spent in response to Hurricane Harvey. Investigate instances of waste, fraud, or abuse involving such funds. Ensure that the State of Texas is maximizing federal disaster aid

House Committee on Government Transparency & Operation

1. Examine the role of technology in disaster preparedness and the response to Hurricane Harvey and future natural disasters. Review and make recommendations to drive innovation and efficiency and evaluate whether there are any regulatory impediments to collaboration between the public and private sectors.

House Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety

1. Evaluate the response of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) response to Hurricane Harvey. Review the actions of the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the state’s natural disaster preparedness planning efforts to determine their effectiveness at addressing Harvey-related issues. Study coordination between municipalities, counties, and state agencies and how emergency response activities are organized and coordinated at the city, county, and regional level.

House Committee on Insurance

1. Examine the effect of Hurricane Harvey on the insurance market in Texas. Include an evaluation of the status of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and Texas FAIR Plan Association, and of the impact of Harvey on the ability of these residual markets to achieve their statutory goals and meet the needs of their policyholders. Examine possible gaps and vulnerabilities in insurance coverage brought to light by Harvey and recommend ways to address these issues.

2. Study the coverage provided by the most common homeowners’ insurance policy forms in Texas, and methods to provide more clarity to Texas consumers about this coverage and the possible need for endorsements or other types of insurance.

House Committee on International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs

2. Review the current state of infrastructure at Texas’ international shipping ports and border ports of entry in Texas. Identify transportation-related impediments to international trade and estimate the impact of those challenges, including border wait times, on the state’s economy. Make recommendations for improvements to facilitate international trade and economic growth. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Transportation)

House Committee on Land & Resource Management

1. Review the General Land Office’s (GLO) role and efforts during the recovery period following Hurricane Harvey. Examine the state’s readiness and protocols in response to storm-related natural disasters. Provide an assessment of public lands and make recommendations on future and ongoing mitigation strategies regarding state assets.

2. Review local and state zoning and land use regulations. Determine if current rules provide an adequate balance of disaster preparedness and deference to private property rights.

3. Examine Texas’ eminent domain statutes to ensure a balance between necessary infrastructure growth and fair compensation for landowners. Review available public information and data relating to the compensation provided to private property owners. Make recommendations to improve the accountability, as well as successful development, of the entities granted eminent domain authority.

House Committee on Natural Resources

1. Examine the following issues within the Committee’s jurisdiction regarding Hurricane Harvey and flooding in general: the role of regional entities in developing projects to control flooding, both through new infrastructure and enhancing existing infrastructure; mitigation efforts that would reduce the impact of future flood events, and strategies to fund those efforts; and the response of public entities that own or operate dams to large-scale rain events, including how such entities make decisions regarding dam and reservoir operations during such events, coordinate with state and local emergency management officials, and communicate with the public.

2. In conjunction with Charge 1, study the following additional issues related to Hurricane Harvey and flooding in general:

a. The development of the initial State Flood Plan by the Texas Water Development Board, and how the plan might be enhanced or focused in light of Harvey;

b. Science and data availability and needs related to flood risk and to responding to flood events;

c. The best methods of providing state financial assistance for flood infrastructure needs;

d. Opportunities for improved collection and storage of flood flows for future supply needs; and

e. The role of voluntary land conservation efforts, including conservation easements, in preventing and mitigating flooding.

3. Evaluate the status of groundwater policy in Texas, including the following issues:

a. Progress and challenges in encouraging coordination and consistency in aquifer-wide management and permitting practices;

b. Developments in case law regarding groundwater ownership and regulation;

c. Potential improvements to the existing groundwater permitting process, including those contemplated in H.B. 31 (85R);

d. The appropriate consideration of the service area of a water supplier when groundwater resources are allocated based on surface ownership;

e. The designation of brackish groundwater production zones and related research;

f. Groundwater data and science needs; and

g. Emerging issues in groundwater and surface water interaction, in particular in areas of increasing competition for scarce resources.

4. Examine the status of water markets in Texas and the potential benefits of and challenges to expanded markets for water.

5. Examine the potential value, the necessary elements, and the implications of a broad-based information and awareness campaign regarding water issues in Texas. Consider input from water stakeholders, educators, and communications experts.

6. Examine opportunities to enhance water development opportunities involving neighboring states and Mexico. Evaluate lessons from previous attempts to import new water supplies, as well as the impacts of noncompliance with the 1944 treaty with Mexico on the Rio Grande Valley region.

7. Analyze the need to update Water Availability Models for the river basins in this state.

8. Study the hazards presented by abandoned and deteriorated groundwater wells, and make recommendations to address the contamination and other concerns these wells may represent.

9. Examine opportunities to enhance water development opportunities involving neighboring states and Mexico. Evaluate lessons from previous attempts to import new water supplies, as well as the impacts of noncompliance with the 1944 treaty with Mexico on the Rio Grande Valley region.

House Committee on Special Purpose Districts

1. Evaluate the impact of Hurricane Harvey on residential communities within special purpose districts and districts’ capacity to respond. Review the role and adequacy of the districts in emergency preparedness and response. Make recommendations for strengthening districts’ emergency operations.

2. Review the statutes and procedures related to state approval and oversight of water district bonds that finance utility, infrastructure, and other projects. Identify opportunities for improving the state’s oversight of bond issuance and make recommendations for statutory changes.

 

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs

Study and make recommendations on how to move forward with water infrastructure projects in the State Water Plan that will help mitigate floods through flood control, diversion, and storage projects. Evaluate plans for a possible third reservoir in addition to Addicks and Barker to control and alleviate additional flooding in the region. Additionally, review the current status of reservoir projects in Texas. Examine opportunities for coordination between federal and state agencies to develop flood mitigation infrastructure, and the ongoing maintenance and restoration of critical dam infrastructure.

Study and identify ways to improve the capacity and maintain the structure of the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. Report on mechanisms that would ensure the public has access to timely and transparent release figures from reservoirs across the state.

Evaluate current state data-sharing standards for rainfall and stream gauges and whether regional flood management projects and flood warnings should be hosted in a centralized location, such as a state agency web page. Determine whether a statewide real-time flood warning system could be developed and coordinated through mobile devices, TxDOT electronic signage, communication devices and whether existing local and regional forecasting infrastructure could be integrated into a centralized inclement weather forecasting system.

Streamlining Water Permitting: Study and recommend changes that promote streamlining of water right permit issuance and the amendment process by the TCEQ for surface water, and that promote uniform and streamline permitting by groundwater conservation districts for groundwater. Evaluate more transparent process needs and proper valuation of water.

Regulatory Framework of Groundwater Conservation Districts and River Authorities: Study and make recommendations on the regulatory framework for managing groundwater in Texas to ensure that private property rights are being sufficiently protected. Study the role of river authorities and groundwater conservation districts including the state’s oversight role of their operations and fees imposed.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs during the 85th Legislature, Regular Session, including, but not limited to: SB 1511 (prioritization in the regional water plan); SB 1538 (Floodplain Management Account uses); SB 864 (GCD application of state water); HB 2004 (Texas economic development fund for TDA); and HB 3433 (adoption of rules affecting rural communities. Make recommendations for any legislative improvements needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation including regional water planning, flood planning, and groundwater production.

Senate Committee on Business and Commerce

Study infrastructure security and energy restoration post weather events. Identify ways state government entities can help utilities more effectively stage pre- hurricane mobilization crews for managing resources before an event.

Examine state mortgage requirements regarding the notification of homebuyers on their need for flood insurance in flood plains and flood pool areas and make recommendations on how to better inform consumers.

Examine and make recommendations on the need for changes to the Texas Constitution for home equity lenders to offer various forms of relief to Texas homeowners affected by natural disasters including, among others, the authority to enter into deferment agreements. This examination should include a study of home equity rules regarding negotiation, modification and refinancing and whether constitutionally established time periods can be waived in times of disasters.

Senate Committee on Finance

Evaluate the long-term impact of Hurricane Harvey on the Texas economy and the gulf coast region.

Senate Committee on Health and Human Services

Review the state’s response to Hurricane Harvey with a focus on public health efforts at the local and state level. The review should include an analysis of the state and local response related to vector control, immunization needs, utilization of health-related volunteers, adequacy of an emergency medical network, evacuation of vulnerable populations from state operated or regulated facilities, and coordination between all levels of government. Recommend any legislative changes necessary to improve public health response and coordination during and after a disaster.

Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations

Special Purpose Districts Bond Reform: Study the state agency review of tax exempt bonds issued by special purpose districts and public improvement districts used to finance water and sewer infrastructure in new residential and commercial developments. Examine the disparities that exist between the feasibility review of water and sewer bonds backed by property-based assessments and those backed by ad valorem taxes, and make recommendations that ensure the continued stability of the Texas tax-exempt bond market by requiring all districts to undergo appropriate reviews prior to issuance.

Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development

Environmental Safety: Study the strategies and best practices for ensuring environmental safety during maintenance, startup, and shutdown activities due to emergencies. Recommend actions to improve safety without compromising compliance or penalizing good actors.

Senate Committee on State Affairs

Review the interaction between federal, state, and local agencies in charge of responding to natural disasters. Examine emergency situation operations, including evacuation routes and procedures, and the efficient use of Disaster Recovery Centers. Make recommendations to ensure emergency management officials have the tools and authority necessary to promptly and appropriately respond to disaster areas and alert citizens to potential threats.

Study and make recommendations on the benefit of the state maintaining a single, web-based source of comprehensive information that outlines the State Emergency Operations during times of disaster.

Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Border Security

Border – Invasive Species: Study and make recommendations on the impact to border security caused by invasive plant species, such as carrizo cane and salt cedar. Review proposals for eradication of invasive plant species that provide a natural shelter for human trafficking and/or smuggling arms and illicit substances.

 

(license-free image from Pexels)

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