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Texas officials approve water funding rules; providers can now apply for some of $2B

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas water providers can now begin applying for funding from the $2 billion lawmakers set aside to help the state meet its needs in the next 50 years.

The application process opened Thursday after members of the Texas Water Development Board unanimously approved rules to implement how funds will be disbursed.

Carlos Rubinstein, the board's chairman, told The Associated Press that the money provided will help the entire state, not just urban areas where growth is projected to be the largest.

"In writing the rules we took special care to make sure that any part of Texas can compete on an even keel," he said.

Voters last year approved using $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to finance projects in the state water plan, and lawmakers have said that money would multiply through interest earnings and revenue bonds. It could grow to $27 billion over 50 years.

From December through Aug. 31 the $2 billion had already made $28.7 million through investment and interest.

Texas' population is expected to grow by 82 percent in the next 50 years.

The funding from the water agency, expected to be $800 million a year for the next 10 years, will be in the form of loans — including low-interest and deferred — not grants.

The water plan calls for more than 3,000 projects and strategies to provide additional water. More than a third would come from conservation and reuse, 17 percent from new reservoirs, 34 percent from other surface supplies and 15 percent from other sources.

Entities could move up on the list of projects to be funded if they have matching funds.

Texans needs an additional 2.7 trillion gallons of water by 2060.

Entities that can apply for the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas include groundwater conservation districts, city-owned utilities, municipalities, counties, river authorities, water control improvement districts and irrigation districts.

This initial application period runs through Feb. 3. Rubinstein said he expects the first checks to be cut from the fund by this time next year.

The 2012 water plan calls for 26 new reservoirs to be built. One water law professor noted, however, that three years after the state's driest year ever, many reservoirs are struggling.

"I'm not convinced that those are the best way to manage our water resources," Texas A&M University School of Law's Gabriel Eckstein said. "I think we should be going much more toward conservation."

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