Commissioners developing water conservation fund

News Reporter

More residents may be able to collect and store their own rainwater and groundwater if county commissioners approve a new $1 million self-renewing fund.

County commissioner Ray Whisenant, Precinct 4, introduced a draft proposal to establish the Hays County Rainwater Initiative Fund during Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting. The proposal aims to create a self-renewing fund to assist residents with the collection, storage, use and conservation of rainwater and groundwater.

The Hays “RAIN” Fund would provide $1 million over the next five fiscal years. The money will go toward funding rainwater collection systems that will collect, store, and disinfect water for residents. The water that is collected can then be used for irrigation purposes, flushing toilets, washing clothes and pressure washing among other uses.

“The impetus for this comes from the fact that conservation is something this county is going to have to be very serious about because in the area we live in, the physical boundaries of Hays County lay within two of the water-planning regions for the State of Texas,” Whisenant said.
The idea behind the self-renewing fund is based on a loan program in which Hays County participated in the 1930s and 1940s. The program allowed people to buy property at a low interest rate with a reasonable payment schedule to repay the funds to the county, Whisenant said. The RAIN Fund would be based on the same format.

“The problem with groundwater is that it’s a strained resource,” Whisenant said. “In the last 15 to 20 years, it’s been a finite resource. This initiative would help people if their wells are weak. They can use this loan program to collect, store and use rainwater.”

The benefits of this program will vary depending on where the resident lives, Whisenant said. To some extent, the program is not for everybody, Whisenant said.

“If you’re in the more urban part of the city, you’re likely to have central water planning,” Whisenant said. “But for those who live in the more rural parts of the city, they can collect rainwater for themselves.”

According to Whisenant’s outline of the plan, the proposal seeks to create a Hays County “RAIN” Committee. The commissioners from each of the four precincts would serve as the committee chair and select a citizen, a vendor and a financial representative from their respective precincts to be approved by the vote of the commissioners court.

Commissioner Will Conley, Precinct 3, who has a rainwater harvesting system at one of his businesses, joined Whisenant in support of the rainwater initiative.

If the local government, potentially working with the private sector, can find a way to make buying a rainwater harvesting system appealing and financially realistic for citizens, people will want to participate, Conley said.

David Glenn, a resident of Wimberley, stated his support for the initiative at the court meeting on Tuesday.

Glenn said as an engineer and water advocate, he realizes that rainwater harvesting is 15 to 20 times more efficient than ground and surface water collection. He said rainwater harvesting is economically efficient and will reduce pipeline and distribution infrastructure.
“I urge the court to consider this proposal in an expedient fashion,” Glenn said.

The commissioner’s court will bring back an extended proposal within the next four to six weeks that will include more of the process to develop the fund and a refinement of the goals.

A decision about the plan should be reached in the next 10 to 12 months, in time for the 2016 fiscal year,
Whisenant said.