Minimal groundwater legislation to pass during legislative session

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

As this issue of The Cross Section is emailed, the 86th Texas Legislature prepares to adjourn "sine die" on May 27.

HPWD tracked more than 100 bills this legislative session.  With just a few days remaining in the regular session, it appears the following bills are still moving forward:  

-          Aquifer Storage & Recovery: Permitting Process, Financial Incentives, & TWDB Studies (HB 720, HB 721, HB 1052, HB 726, SB 1041, & HB 1594)

-          Brackish Groundwater Permitting (HB 722)

-          Creation of an Interregional Planning Council for Regional Water Planning Groups (HB 807)

-          Government Transparency: Open Meetings & Fiscal Transparency (HB 305)

-          Property Tax: Rollback Rates & Appraisal Process (HB 2 & SB 2)

Bills that didn’t quite make it past the finish line:

-          Similar Rules within a Groundwater Management Area (SB 1010)

-          Attorney’s fees for landowners when a GCD is a party (HB 2125 & SB 851)

-          Permitting for rural water utility providers (HB 2122 & HB 2249)

-          Efforts under Chapter 36 to ensure GCD rules are science based and effectively protect private property rights.  (HB 2123 & SB 2026)

Good News: Very few pieces of legislation will pass.  Bad News: Many topics of importance to the legislature went unresolved and will likely emerge again next session.  The legislative session ends on Monday, May 27th. 

An overview of the 86th Texas Legislative Session will be presented to the HPWD Board of Directors at their June 11 meeting in Lubbock.

May 25-27 Sales Tax Holidays for Water-Efficient and ENERGY STAR® Products

Texas families and businesses can save on the purchase of certain water- and energy-efficient products during the state's Water-Efficient Products and ENERGY STAR® sales tax holidays. Both take place Saturday, May 25, through Monday, May 27.

The Texas Comptroller's office estimates shoppers will save about $12.6 million in state and local sales tax during the Memorial Day weekend sales tax holidays.

"Inefficient appliances and outdated water systems can put a tremendous strain on our power grids and water supplies,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said. “By taking advantage of these sales tax holidays, Texans can make upgrades that will help alleviate those pressures and lower their utility bills — while saving money on state and local sales taxes.”"

This is the fourth year for the Water-Efficient Products Sales Tax Holiday. Products displaying a WaterSense® label or logo can be purchased tax-free for personal or business use. These include showerheads, bathroom sink faucets and accessories, toilets, urinals and landscape irrigation controls.

The sales tax holiday also applies to lawn and garden products that help conserve water outdoors. Items qualifying for the exemption include soaker or drip-irrigation hoses; moisture controls for a sprinkler or irrigation system; mulch; and plants, trees and grasses. These items can be purchased tax-free for residential use only.

There's no limit to the number of water-efficient or water-conserving products you can purchase tax-free. For more information on the Water-Efficient Products Sales Tax Holiday, visit the Comptroller's website.

During the ENERGY STAR Sales Tax Holiday, certain energy-efficient products displaying the ENERGY STAR logo can be purchased tax-free, including air conditioners priced at $6,000 or less, refrigerators priced at $2,000 or less, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dishwashers, dehumidifiers and clothes washing machines.

Visit the Comptroller's website for more ENERGY STAR Sales Tax Holiday details.

Rainfall amounts double statewide average since April 1

From AgriLife Today

COLLEGE STATION – April showers delivered moisture around the state, but so far May has been one for the ages when it comes to rainfall, said the Texas State Climatologist.

Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon said rainfall amounts have been more than double normal, averaging more than 7 inches, due to several lines of storms across the state since April 1. The drought monitor showed all parts of the state had received enough moisture to leave “drought” status, though some areas are still “abnormally dry.”

“We were below normal in some areas for the first few months of 2019, but April showers brought us up to normal for the calendar year,” he said. “In the past 30 days, most of the state received two to four times normal rainfall, and that includes areas like the Pecos River to Northeast Texas.”

The first 12 days of May were among the 10 wettest from west central to north central, central, southeast and northeast Texas, and were the wettest start to May on record for Austin, College Station and Tyler.

Tyler experienced its wettest 12-month period ending May 12 in 105 years, he said, and Dallas experienced its second wettest in 120 years over the same period. Many other areas around the state also recorded some of their highest recorded 12-month rainfall amounts in more than a century during the same time.

Nielsen-Gammon said parts of Far West and South Texas had received less than average precipitation over the past 30 days. Cameron County, for example, has received near-average amounts over the last 90 days, but only one quarter of its average rainfall, while the rest of the state deals with deluges.

Saturated soils, standing water and major flooding have been reported in many parts of the state, according to county reports. Wet conditions have caused delays to fieldwork and crop planting. Flooding has caused crop losses in some areas.

“Most river gauges in East Texas showed at least minor flooding,” he said. “The Brazos and

Trinity rivers reached major flood stages and many areas in Southeast Texas, including Houston and Beaumont, received a lot of rain, 10-20 inches over seven days.”

On the positive side, Nielsen-Gammon said rains were key for  keeping summer temperatures relatively mild.

“The longer the rains persist, the better the outlook for avoiding extreme heat in the summertime,” he said.

Statewide, temperatures have been within a few degrees of normal high and low temperatures, he said. Daytime temperatures were slightly higher and nighttime temperatures were slightly lower on average in the Panhandle and High Plains this spring.

“We’ve gotten used to drier-than-normal Mays, so when we get a wet one it really stands out,” he said.

Irrigation runoff mitigation system patented

COLLEGE STATION – Just as temperatures begin to heat up and lawns begin to seemingly beg for water, Texas A&M AgriLife faculty were recognized at a patent award banquet for their irrigation runoff mitigation system.

With water waste a growing problem nationwide, an interdisciplinary team of engineers, irrigation researchers and turfgrass experts have spent the past two years designing a solution to conserve strained water supplies in municipal landscapes.

Leading the invention were Dr. Ben Wherley, Texas A&M AgriLife Research turfgrass ecologist, and Dr. Jorge Alvarado, Texas A&M University department of engineering technology and industrial distribution professor, both in College Station.

Other team members on the project were Dr. Richard White and Jim Thomas, both retired from Texas A&M’s soil and crop sciences department; Dr. Casey Reynolds, formerly with AgriLife Research; Dr. Fouad Jaber, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service engineering specialist, Dallas; and Dean Tate and Junfeng Men, both former engineering students.

The team’s objective was to design a reliable, durable and low-cost Landscape Irrigation Runoff Mitigation System, or LIRMS, that could minimize irrigation runoff losses from residential or commercial landscapes.

Feedback control systems for automated irrigation systems have been limited to soil moisture sensors, weather-based evapotranspiration controllers and rain sensors, Wherley said. A need existed for a system to control scheduled irrigated delivery based on detected irrigation-water runoff.

“In a series of tests comparing LIRMS-controlled irrigation versus industry standard irrigation practices at our runoff measurement facility, the LIRMS was able to reduce landscape runoff by up to 50% during a typical 1-inch irrigation event,” he said.

LIRMS quickly detects and responds to the early stages of runoff, pausing irrigation and generating an automated cycle soaking through the duration of the allotted run period, thus mitigating significant runoff fluxes, Wherley said.

With LIRMS control during an irrigation event, 30 minutes of irrigation may require a few hours to apply, depending on the potential for runoff in a given landscape, he said.

“However, the result is more water ending up in the soil, and less in the storm sewers,” Alvarado said.

The LIRMS system detects flow of water through a boundary, which may be a curb or the junction of two adjoining properties, he said. A controller is operatively coupled to the irrigation system and the sensor. Responsive to the sensor detecting flow of water through the boundary above a predefined threshold, the controller signals the irrigation system to pause irrigation.

“We know urban and/or municipal water use will continue to represent a significant portion of overall water demand in Texas, especially given the rapid pace of urban growth in the state,” Wherley said. “And while most municipalities prohibit irrigation runoff, enforcing it is a challenge.”

Both Alvarado and Wherley said there is still room for improvement in the system.

“Our future efforts will seek to improve efficiency of the system in terms of recognizing appropriate lengths of pause periods based on ambient soil moisture, soil texture, slope and other factors by using artificial intelligence to simply recognize when soil saturation has been achieved based on the runoff dynamics,” Alvarado said.

“As population growth places greater strains on potable water, we believe LIRMS has enormous potential to help water conservation efforts for communities throughout the country.” Wherley said.

LIRMS is composed of a sensor as well as a controller and these would be installed by a professional irrigation contractor when a new system is installed, or as an add on to an existing irrigation system, he said.

“Since no company has licensed the technology yet, the devices we have now are simply prototypes,” Wherley said. “A professional company might improve the device and make it look completely different than it does now. But our patent covers any type of system that controls irrigation in response to detected runoff.”

The product is available for licensing through Texas A&M’s Technology Commercialization website