With the primary election about six weeks away, the Central Texas Water Coalition—a nonprofit organization that advocates for water-preservation policies for the Highland Lakes—sponsored a forum Jan. 20 featuring candidates hoping to win the U.S. Senate District 24 seat vacated by former
Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay.
“Water is not partisan but totally political,” CTWC President Jo Karr Tedder said. “Water should be on the top of everybody’s list as for what is most important. That’s why we’re hosting this. I’ve gone to other forums. There have been no water questions asked, and I thought we just need to do this—it needs to be water-focused.”
Each candidate—Dawn Buckingham, Jon Cobb, Ryan Downton, Susan King, Brent Mayes and Reed
Williams—responded to original questions asked by moderator Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger. Virginia Leeder was absent because of a prior commitment, Tedder said.
Buckingham, an ophthalmologist and former Lake Travis ISD school board member, said she wants to “decrease the footprint of government we feel in our everyday lives.”
“I’ve heard story after story of tanks going dry, wells going dry, Medina Lake going dry,” she said. “We need a good, comprehensive water plan based on science that’s ever-evolving and thinking about new ways and new technologies and new ideas to address the problem.”
She said she would explore desalinization and off-channel reservoirs as water options.
Cobb, a contractor and Lakeway resident, said he believes “water is the issue in the state of Texas.”
“Water is just not priced the way it should be priced,” said Cobb, citing the discrepancy in price downstream users pay for water—$6 an acre-foot—and the price uninterruptible customers pay for water—$150 per acre-foot. “We’ve got to factor in the economic impact of the Highland Lakes.”
He said that conservation alone is not the answer for water efficiency, but a combination of methods—including desalinization, conservation, use of groundwater—is the solution.
Downton, an attorney and Salado resident, said his young son is the reason he is running for Fraser’s seat—“to create a brighter future for Texans.”
He said the Lower Colorado River Authority needs to focus on the economic impact of water on businesses and home values around Lake Travis when setting its price, and the price should be fair to all water users.
“[The LCRA said it] can’t consider economic impact,” Downton said. [The LCRA said it] is prohibited by statute from considering what was a $100 million loss to this area in the last round [of water rate setting]. We need to change the legislation to be able to address that problem.”
King, R-Abilene, a nurse and House District 71 representative, is chairwoman of the Texas House Committee on Defense and Veterans’ Affairs.
“We have water issues throughout this district,” King said. “The problem is the collaboration between municipal needs, industry and rural. And that’s the hard part. The problem for this district is it’s so different—we have a big section of rural right in the middle [of the district]. As your senator, I would have to be cognizant of every kind of water need.”
She said that water pricing must be reviewed, and conservation is the moral responsibility of water users.
Mayes, a retired physician, said he is running for office to “restore the freedoms of our country.”
“The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should be required to consider economic impact in their decisions,” he said. “We have to rein in the semi-governmental agencies who have become the fourth arm of government.”
The TCEQ is a state agency formed to protect the state’s public health and natural resources.
He said the state’s water supply can increase with the use of groundwater, but the water supply will not be saved through conservation methods.
A former San Antonio City Council member, Williams said he advocates groundwater use and that “we have to get the image that we are running out of water out of everybody’s minds.”
“I believe we have over-committed the water in our river districts,” Williams said. “The watersheds are not getting bigger. Our population is going up. To count on using surface water for future growth is not realistic. ”
He said pricing can encourage technology for more efficient water use.