Monday, June 20, 2016
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs heard testimony June 20, 2016 on the interim charge of improving the process of developing and executing the State Water Plan. Among those invited to speak were TALT’s chief executive officer Blair Fitzsimons, and national research director, for the Trust for Public Land, Matthew Zieper.
Their testimony can be viewed at http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=11196 begining at 2:27:03 and read bellow.
Testimony of Blair Fitzsimons, Chief Executive Officer, Texas Agricultural Land Trust
Chairman Perry, members of the committee: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I am here to support the conservation of privately-owned working lands as a low-cost strategy for protecting and enhancing the state’s water resources. As part of the planning process to ensure future water supplies, we need to ensure as well that we do not lose the rural lands that capture, store and clean rain; in times of drought and floods – and in between – these lands provide a vital function.
This is a two-part presentation. First, I am going to give you some background on land conservation efforts in Texas; and then my colleague here, Matt Zieper from Trust for Public Land, will provide examples from other states that could be used as models in Texas.
The Texas Agricultural Land Trust is a 501c3 non-profit that was created in 2007 by leaders from Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers, Texas Farm Bureau and Texas Wildlife Association. The primary tool that we work with at the Ag Land Trust is a conservation easement, which is a voluntary, legally-binding agreement between a land trust and a landowner that permanently restricts the non-agricultural development of a property. Each easement is individually negotiated, and tailored to meet the needs of the landowner and the specifications of the land. The landowner retains title, and all other rights. If done right, a conservation easement can be a true win-win: the citizens of Texas get critical natural resources, like water, protected at a fraction of the cost of purchasing that land; and the farmer or rancher receives a financial incentive to continue the good stewardship of those natural resources, and which helps them stay in business.
One of 30 land trusts in Texas, the Ag Land Trust today holds conservation easements on approximately 225,000 acres of farm- and ranchland throughout Texas. You have a map in front of you that shows where we have worked. Let me connect the dots in terms of impact: The conservation easements on these 225,000 acres have protected 225,000 acres of watersheds, 961 miles of stream and river beds, and 6,000 acres of wetlands. If the state had paid to purchase this land to protect those water resources, it would have paid $136m (which is the market value). Our operating expenses for this period were $1.8m.
To further illustrate my point that land conservation can be a low-cost strategy, I want to share with you an example from New York City, which in the early 90’s was required build a new water treatment plant, the cost for which was to be between $6-9 billion, with an annual carrying cost of about $250m. Cash-strapped New York City ended up buying conservation easements on the dairy farms that surround the highland lakes which is their source of drinking water, which satisfied the EPA mandate. They ended up spending about $500m, and the dairy farmers received a nice financial boost that helped shore up the dairy industry in New York. A nice win-win for municipal and agricultural interests.
In Texas, we have laid the foundation to use land conservation as a water protection strategy. The 2016 South Texas Regional Water Plan speaks to that in its policy chapter*. In order to administer such a strategy, we also have in place a mechanism known as the Texas Farm & Ranch Lands Conservation Program. Housed at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, it was created to make grants to land trusts to purchase conservation easements from farmers and ranchers, and is overseen by a board that includes landowners as well as representatives from the Texas Water Development Board and other relevant state agencies. Last session, the program received its first appropriation of $2m, which it used to award grants that will conserve 16,000 acres. The total project value of these grants was $17.34m, meaning that the state monies were leveraged by a little more than 8 times.
To summarize, I would like to reiterate three important points:
- As part of the planning process to ensure future water supplies, we need to ensure that we do not lose the rural lands that capture, store and clean rain;
- By using conservation easements and working through non-governmental land trusts, the state can achieve its water protection objectives in a non-regulatory; cost-effective manner;
- The conservation of private working lands presents an opportunity to achieve win-win solutions that benefit municipal water users as well as agricultural producers.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
*8.3.5 Land Stewardship The SCTRWPG encourages State support of implementing or enhancing land stewardship management practices that are shown to augment the quality and quantity of the state-owned surface water and privately-owned groundwater resources.
Testimony of Matt Zieper, National Research Director, the Trust for Public Land
Thank you Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Chairman Perry, Vice-Chairwoman Zaffirini, members and staff of the Committee for the opportunity to testify with regards to the Senate Interim Charge on Improving the Process of Developing and Executing the State Water Plan.
We applaud the efforts of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs to explore opportunities to improve the process of developing and executing the State Water Plan. We are here to encourage the voluntary protection and stewardship of privately owned farms and ranches in support of the state’s water supply and the use of the untapped potential of the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund towards that purpose.
The Trust for Public Land works to protect the places people care about and to create close-to-home parks—particularly in and near cities, where 80 percent of Americans live. Our goal is to ensure that every child has easy access to a safe place to play in nature. We also conserve working farms, ranches, and forests; lands of historical and cultural importance; rivers, streams, coasts, and watersheds; and other special places where people can experience nature close at hand. Since 1972, we have protected more than 3.3 million acres nationwide; in Texas, we have helped protect such critical water resources as Barton Springs Watershed, the Edwards Aquifer, the Brazos River, Buffalo Bayou/the Houston Bayou Greenways and the Trinity River.
We partner with law makers, public agencies, water managers and communities to show how healthy watersheds can be a cost-effective way to safeguard drinking water, promote aquifer recharge and ensure the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams, while also protecting wildlife habitat and creating opportunities for outdoor recreation.
The Trust for Public Land is a national expert in conservation finance, serving as a trusted advisor to state and local government officials to research, design and pass ballot measures and legislation that create new public funding to support the protection of land and water resources. Since 1996, we have worked in 43 states to help pass more than 500 state and local ballot measures and new state legislation in two dozen states including measures in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, San Antonio and Harris, Hays, Kendall, Travis and Williamson counties that total more than $800 million in new funding for land conservation. Collectively, our efforts have yielded more than $60 billion for land conservation and restoration and we have an 81% approval rate on measures that we have worked on. The overwhelming reason that voters support these efforts is to protect drinking water and the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams.
The key points of our testimony are summarized here:
- Texas is a national leader in conservation finance. Local voters across Texas from big cities to outlying counties have approved 90% of local parks and open space ballot measures over the past three decades – outpacing the 75% approval rate nationwide. This strong record of success underscores the bedrock importance that Texas voters have in being willing to invest their own tax dollars in efforts to protect important natural lands, including supporting approaches to conserve privately held, working lands via conservation easement to protect water resources.
- Protecting water resources is the top priority of voters in Texas and nationwide. In more than 200 public opinion surveys commissioned by The Trust for Public Land, voters unanimously rank the protection of drinking water and the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams as their top priorities for spending taxpayer money on land conservation. They also strongly support the conservation of privately held working farms and ranches through voluntary agreements like conservation easements.
- The state has an untapped source of existing funding – the CWSRF: One key untapped source of potential funding for land conservation that supports the protection of water resources is the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) administered by the Texas Water Development Board. The CWSRF – an innovative partnership between the state and federal governments—has done exemplary work to improve water quality in Texas, primarily by making low-interest loans to local governments for critical infrastructure to address point-source pollution that supports the water quality goals of the Clean Water Act. Non-point source (NPS) pollution – commonly from urban polluted runoff, fertilizers and erosion—is the largest source of remaining pollution in all states, yet 96% of CWSRF funds nationally have gone to address point source pollution. In Texas, between 1988 and 2012 (the last year of available EPA data), just $1.9 million or (.032%) of the roughly $6 billion spent from the CWSRF, went to address NPS pollution.
- There are currently funds available in Texas to be spent on NPS that no-one is applying for: In SFY 2015, of the $514 million available to lend under the CWSRF, the state’s Intended Use Plan reserved 7% of its total funds or $36.7million for non-point source (NPS) pollution or estuary management projects, the categories under which land conservation would fall. Nine eligible applicants, with project costs totaling $108.9m, were rated using the NPS criteria, were listed under the NPS category in the IUP, and were invited to apply for financing. As of August 31, 2015, the TWDB did not receive any applications for funding from the NPS list of projects and did not receive any interest for estuary management financial assistance.
- We are here to encourage the state to consider how it might partner with land trusts to stimulate the use of the CWSRF to support the voluntary conservation of working farms and ranches via conservation easement. The state held 14 workshops on the CWSRF in 2015 to encourage applicants to apply for the $109 million that the state set aside to address NPS pollution/estuary management. Drawing upon the network and resources of the land trust community may lead to an uptick in the use of the NPS pollution/estuary management funds.
- Georgia and Ohio offer two varied and effective models for using the CWSRF for land conservation.
- Georgia Land Conservation Program was established by Governor Sonny Perdue in 2005 and capitalized with a one-time transfer of $55 million from the CWSRF. The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority administers this revolving loan program that provides Very low (0.9% currently) interest loans are made to local governments, nonprofit land conservation groups and state authorities. In total, the state has made $42 million in loans across 14 projects, totaling 35,000 acres.
- Ohio Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Program: Under the WRRSP, Ohio EPA pairs traditional point-source pollution reduction projects with non-point source (NPS) projects (conservation and restoration) and provides a significant interest rate subsidy to the point-source borrower who “sponsors” the NPS project. Since the WRRSP’s inception in 1999, Ohio EPA has spent $160 million. In 2015, Ohio EPA will spend $15 million on WRRSP, or 2.7% of the total $541 CWSRF spending.
- Using the CWSRF to encourage the protection of working farms and ranches could reap more federal funding the At present, there is no dedicated source of state funding in Texas to encourage private stewardship of working lands and few local governments have this funding either. As a result, Texas has missed out on great opportunities to secure funding from the aforementioned Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) that has been a catalyst in Colorado and many other states. Under FRPP, states that have a dedicated source of funding are much more effective at securing these federal grant dollars. States that are a fraction of the size of Texas such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey are pulling down a disproportionate share of the funding while Texas languishes in the bottom third of states.
The Trust for Public Land has the expertise to explore new tools that can be employed in Texas to increase funding to support stewardship of lands that support water protection. I would be happy to talk with members of the Committee about options for Texas, and am available to answer questions at any time.
Thank you for your time and consideration.