Change and Evolution

Every season in Texas seems to bring us a fair amount of change - if not a fair amount of rain. As predicted, the jockeying of power in the Texas House and incumbent upsets in the primaries provided for a few changes significant to those chairing and participating in key water committees. Retirements and de-couplings of departments in the TCEQ will shake things up a bit. And potential or suggested changes to funding mechanisms and federal dollars leveraged will dramatically change the discussion on infrastructure funding.


Before diving into the changes listed above that will no doubt impact us with external forces, WEAT is also choosing to change and evolve so that we may continue to lead on all things water in Texas. In order to serve our members more effectively and better communicate the myriad of water quality issues to the public, WEAT has embarked on the implementation phase of our newest strategic plan. This involves many stages and many phases; but currently, I am very excited to note that we are redesigning our website and rebuilding our database. Our soft launch date of the website is during Texas Water. By late April, our members should have a much more intuitive and greatly improved user experience on our website. You will more easily be able to join and renew your membership, sign up for conferences and webinars, and see all of the great work our committees and fantastic volunteers are doing.

WEAT’s new website has a strong focus on our members while supporting a core component of our mission, to better educate the public on water quality issues. The refreshed website has a “Learn” page, which is public facing and will have industry and treatment FAQs, infographics, and other pieces of public information. It is meant as a hub for public education and to house many stats, figures, virtual tours, and information conveying both the value of water and the value and vital work our members and industry professionals perform daily.

At the core of our new website design are our members’ experiences and ability to quickly and easily access the information they are looking for. And speaking of look, the website design is inspired by our new logo. A team of researchers and designers interviewed members and stakeholders and developed a mark inspired by themes of WEAT members hold near and dear like; scientific, intellectual, progressive, and established, to name a few.


The March 6 primaries gave us a few upsets and an important incumbent unseating, but no major blue waves or overhauls to the Texas Legislature. The most notable upset on the Senate side is Craig Estes’ loss to former Representative Pat Fallon. This has obvious repercussions to the composition of the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee as the Chairman will change from Estes to the newly Lt. Governor appointed Chair, Senator Birdwell. As for the State House of Representatives, two Republican incumbents were beaten, Villalba and Faircloth, and there will be 7 runoff elections. Four Democratic incumbents were beaten, Uresti, Arevalo, Alonzo, and Duke. There will also be seven runoff elections for the House Democratic seats. We will keep a running tally of changes and update you through November and beyond.


As many of you are already aware, TCEQ Executive Director Richard Hyde recently announced his retirement. The press release issued by the TCEQ noted that he will stay on through April as a successor is being named. Director Hyde said of his time at the agency, “I’m thankful to have worked with so many dedicated employees at the TCEQ. TCEQ’s employees work hard every day to protect the environment using good science and common sense.” And we are thankful for his leadership and guidance during his tenure! We will also soon feel the effects of the separation of the Pretreatment and Stormwater team in the Water Quality Division of the TCEQ. At the time of writing this, we do not know who the new Pretreatment team leader will be. On the TWDB side, the Governor announced in late February the appointment of Peter Lake as the new Chair of the TWDB to fill Bech Bruun’s vacancy. Brook Paup has been named to round out the current TWDB board members.


EPA Headquarters and EPA Region Six seem to be showing signs of change. The term “cooperative federalism” has been bandied about and Anne Idsal’s recent comments at a local conference, a DOJ memo on enforcement practices, and the suspension of the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule applicability all point towards change at the EPA. Cooperative federalism is understood as the federal government deferring to states on solutions to problems and working towards common goals rather than competing interests. As Regional Administrator Idsal recently said, “let Region 6 know how we can remove barriers to better planning… It’s critical that [R6] works with states… and states determine how best Region 6 can help.” We have also seen promises and some action on permit turnaround times. Again, Idsal touched on this when saying that the expectation to acquire a permit will be months not years. There has also been discussion and hints of action on bringing clarity to rules and making sure communities know what to expect and therefore have better regulatory certainty. The enforcement context has also been changing. Idsal recently discussed a shift towards a more outcome based approach for compliance and enforcement. Idsal said this would be actualized whereby the Regions starts with clear communication of issues and how to comply rather than opening with an enforcement approach. See Nathan Vassar’s article in this issue of Texas WET for an expanded discussion on the DOJ memo on enforcement practices. And lastly, the 2015 WOTUS rule is on the chopping block and will replaced. The February 6 2018 publication of the final rule in the Federal Register was a publication to suspend the applicability of the rule until 2020. Essentially, delay the applicability until the replacement WOTUS rule has been drafted.


Water Week is quickly approaching, April 17-19, 2018. This is the annual event encouraging amplification of our message of increased federal funding for water infrastructure and the overarching importance of clean, safe, and reliable water. Delegates from WEAT, TACWA, and WRT will be meeting with Texas Congressional members to discuss these key themes. We will also be discussing the FY 18 budget as the March 23 deadline to pass FY 2018 will have passed at the time of our meetings. On the top of the list of “asks” in looking towards FY 19 with reference to FY 18, is the strongest funding possible for the Clean and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) and Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA). We will advocate for increased funding allowing for communities to better advance local projects and meet local clean water and drinking water needs.

I hope spring time in Texas is treating everyone as well as possible and the beauty of the blue bonnets is outweighing spring allergies! I look forward to tracking all industry changes and reporting back in the very near future. As always, give me a call or send me an email with any questions or comments.

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