Beto O’Rourke, Congressman & U.S. Senate Candidate
In this issue’s Q&A, Texas+Water Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Todd Votteler, invited U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke, to share their thoughts on Texas water through an identical candidate questionnaire. While the Cruz campaign ultimately declined to participate, the O’Rourke campaign returned the questionnaire.
Beto O’Rourke has served in Congress since 2013, and previously served as a member of the El Paso City Council from 2005-2011. An alumnus of Columbia University, O’Rourke returned to El Paso in 1998. O’Rourke has advocated for environmental protection and supports efforts to combat global warming. O’Rourke’s lifetime voting record with The League of Conservation Voters is 95 percent and he holds a 2017 score of 100 percent.
What do you consider the biggest future challenge facing Texas with regard to water?
Texas is booming, and the rapidly growing population will continue to put pressure on our water resources and our water infrastructure. Meanwhile, significant challenges arise from an already variable climate. Drought in some parts of the state and flooding in others will continue to occur with increasing frequency and severity as a warming planet exacerbates climate variability.
Texas faces a multi-pronged challenge: (1) to expand water supplies to meet excess demand, (2) to make clean and reliable water available to urban and agricultural users where it is needed, often in less water rich parts of the state, (3) to balance the demands of users with the needs to preserve the natural environment and protect against drinking water contamination, and (4) to plan ahead with flood control and prevention, and disaster recovery plans that take account of the risk storm pose to critical water infrastructure
During your time in Congress what is the most significant thing you have done regarding water?
Two key roles of the federal government in water policy are co-funding water infrastructure investments, and providing for nationwide water quality protections. While in Congress, I voted yes [Office2] on bipartisan legislation to fund the government avoiding a shutdown in late 2016, in large part because the compromise allowed for an agreement to provide $170 million for water infrastructure improvements in Flint, Michigan, addressing in part a water infrastructure failure that typifies poor planning, insufficient investment, and disregard for the well-being of water users. Along similar lines, I voted for billions of dollars in Harvey disaster recovery funding, and strongly advocated for additional funding specifically for repairing and restoring water infrastructure. In addition, I consistently vote to protect our natural environment and keep our waterways clean, including supporting legislation to extend the Clean Water Act upstream to streams and wetlands
Is there something you think the federal government should, or should not, be doing regarding water?
As mentioned above, two key roles of the federal government are co-funding water infrastructure investments, and providing for nationwide water quality protections. In Texas, we need to (1) invest in aquifer storage and desalination to increase water supplies, (2) upgrade our sewers and wastewater treatment systems to avoid wastewater overflows during floods and prevent hazardous pollution from entering waterways, and (3) build resilient water infrastructure during disaster recovery to be ready for the next natural disaster. The federal government has a role to play in co-funding these investments. In addition, the Clean Water Act and other water quality protections are part of the mandate of the Environmental Protection Agency and are responsible for cleaning up our oceans and lakes, and improving the health of our citizens.
Are there any other thoughts regarding water that you would like to share with us?
Water is a resource critical to the well-being of our health and our economy. We also face challenges when it comes to water, as Texas is among the most groundwater-consuming states in the nation and our varied climate puts us at risk for both drought and flooding. Water infrastructure investments and innovative planning will be key to addressing this challenge going forward.