Grimes County Judge Joe Fauth III testified at the State Capitol April 4, in favor of House Bill 4551.
HB 4551, authored by District 12 Representative Kyle Kacal, proposes a change to section 1, subchapter B of chapter 26 of the water code. The code would require a permit for the high-speed rail project. It is written to authorize Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to issue the permit authorizing the construction and operation of a high-speed rail project “only if the commission determines that the construction and operation will not adversely impact the quality of drinking water, surface water, or groundwater in any area of Texas.” HB 4551 would take affect Sept. 1 if approved.
“While the currently proposed, yet dwindling, HSR project has plagued our county since 2014, water issues have faced our county since water was created there and, as we all know, water issues will not be solved any time soon,” stated Fauth. “I am here this morning to ask for your support in voting out this bill from committee so that the water of Grimes County and all of Texas can be protected now and well into the future.”
Fauth spoke about flood mitigation, “With increasing frequency and severity of such flood events, even with flood mitigation measures such as retention ponds, elevated rails in limited locations and drainage under berms, a high-speed rail system of this magnitude would still significantly change the natural water flow for any area the rail line runs through. The vastness of the effects of such changes would be unpredictable but any changes to existing water courses would likely result in negative impacts to homes, industry, roads and bridges, as well as reservoirs, potentially creating new flood prone areas requiring more home buy outs.”
Fauth said in Madison County to the mid-point stop proposed for Grimes County, there are 13 sizeable stock ponds that will be impacted or destroyed and 11 tributaries that feed some of those ponds will be impacted or destroyed. “Removing or altering these important elements of water shed will undoubtedly create an even greater problem.”
According to Fauth, “the extent of impacts to the landscape and water resources in Grimes County, and across the state when future projects are proposed, are too great to allow for reviewing outdated information and a rubber stamp in DC, as has happened with the currently proposed HSR project.”
Fauth said people often point to the failures of California’s HSR project as a foreshadowing of what can happen here in Texas if HSR is allowed to move forward without the proper oversight. Those impacts include “skyrocketing construction costs, extended timeline, property rights issues, impacts to farmers and ranchers…not one shovel of dirt has been turned in Texas for the HSR and all these same problems are already here. Now we are hearing that parts of the completed sections of track in California are now under water. Please take heed.”
Despites belief this is a discriminatory bill against the currently proposed Dallas to Houston HSR. Fauth said they can provide specific oversights and issues related to the environmental review for that project, those are examples of what the federal government thought to be as sufficient oversight of our water here in Texas. “We must pass this bill into law so Texas will have an opportunity to protect and mitigate any impacts to our water that may arise should any high-speed rail line be constructed in Texas,” explained Fauth. “Protecting our own water should be something everyone can agree on.”
On April 4, HB 4551 was left pending in the committee.