The Texas Constitution (Section 59, Article XVI) authorizes the creation of conservation and reclamation districts to conserve and develop the state’s natural resources and authorizes such districts to incur indebtedness, including bonds supported by taxes, to finance improvements related to the state’s natural resources. Conservation and reclamation districts, often referred to as “water districts,” may be created for a wide variety of purposes, including river authorities, groundwater districts, flood districts, and municipal utility districts. These districts may be coterminous with a single county, comprise multiple counties, or operate in only a portion of a city or county. Some examples of conservation and reclamation districts in Texas include:
Harris County Flood Control District
Harris County Flood Control District is a conservation and reclamation district created by the Texas legislature in 1937. The Flood Control District actively partners with entities on conservation projects, including tree preservation and plantings. The District typically plants 12,000 to 15,000 trees annually to replace those lost during construction, to enhance capital improvement projects, and as part of a routine maintenance program. The District does not run its own parks system but allows for and encourages third parties to build and maintain trail systems, greenway corridors, and other park amenities in channel and detention rights-of-way. The District has dedicated staff members who work with public and private entities on multi-use projects in conjunction with District facilities.
Harris County Flood Control District
Lower Colorado River Authority
The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) was created by the Texas Legislature in 1934. The LCRA produces and delivers electric power, manages the lower Colorado River and provides a reliable water supply, manages a public parks system and supports community development. LCRA is funded primarily by revenue from generating and transmitting electricity. They do not receive state appropriations or have the ability to levy taxes.
The LCRA also manages the Creekside Conservation Program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and local soil and water conservation districts. The program offers cost-sharing incentives that help landowners plan and implement conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and protect water resources, including projects such as brush management, cross-fencing, rangeland planting and alternative water source development, among others.
Water Supply Corporations
Water supply corporations, (WSCs) enabled by the Texas Water Code Chapter 67, are sometimes referred to as “Water Supply or Sewer Service Corporations.” Operating as nonprofit organizations, water supply corporations (1) supply water, sewer service, or both for a municipality, a private corporation, an individual, or a military camp or base; and (2) provide flood control and drainage systems for political subdivisions, private corporations, or another person. Water supply corporations do not have taxing authority but may contract with certain entities to issue bonds.
Typically, WSCs are granted funds from the United States Department of Agriculture or the Texas Water Development Board. The TWDB’s Texas Water Development Fund is continuously available to all political subdivisions of the state and nonprofit water supply corporations. Financial assistance, usually in the form of loans, may be used for acquisition of floodplain land for use in public open space, public beach re-nourishment, and control of coastal erosion, in addition to water related infrastructure planning, acquisition, and construction. Water supply corporations are additionally eligible for several other financial assistance programs through the Texas Water Development Board.
Regional Parks Districts
A regional parks district is an entity that bears responsibility for maintenance and management of parklands across multiple counties or jurisdictions. In states like California and Illinois, regional parks districts have been active since the 1930s. In both states, parks districts are enabled by legislation to be funded through bond measures, property taxes, park user fees and leases, and state and federal grants. In Texas, certain conservation and reclamation districts can use taxes, bond measures, or other fees to maintain parks in their jurisdictions.
The Texas Parks and Recreation Facilities Amendment, also known as Proposition 4, was passed by ballot measure on September 13, 2003. The measure authorized conservation and reclamation districts to use taxes to develop and finance certain parks and recreation facilities. Also, the amendment authorized the legislature to allow local elections for the issuance of bonds to improve and maintain parks and recreational facilities in the Tarrant Regional Water District or a conservation and reclamation district located in whole or in part of Bastrop, Bexar, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Montgomery, Tarrant, Travis, Waller and Williamson counties. The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) manages four lakes, three parks and more than 70 miles of trails. TRWD’s Trinity Trails System winds through much of Fort Worth and is one of the Metroplex’s most used recreational facilities.
The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) also manages a public parks system. LCRA owns nearly 11,000 acres of parkland along the Colorado River from the Hill Country to the Gulf Coast. A number of these parks are operated by LCRA staff, while others are operated by third parties, which include private companies and local government agencies. LCRA parks are funded by park fee revenue rather than taxes.
Lower Colorado River Authority Parks System