Unspent money could fix Texas’ flood funding snag

Flood water on Citation Avenue (Henry Mojica)
Flood water on Citation Avenue (Henry Mojica)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Texas leaders could be just days away from finally fixing a financial snag that could have cost Texas communities millions in flood prevention funding.

After a KXAN Investigation revealed an apparent allocation issue between Gov. Greg Abbott’s office and the Legislative Budget Board, the state’s top accountant is now digging up unspent dollars from various state agencies.

“We have identified certain fiscal 2016 items of appropriation…that are generally intended for agency programs related to water resource management and/or flood control prevention,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar wrote to Abbott in a letter.

Hegar’s office has identified nearly $14.5 million from the Texas Water Development Board, the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, and the State Soil and Water Conservation Board that could be used to correct the funding problem.

The days directly following deadly May flooding in the state coincided with the end of the last legislative session. Left with few options in that short amount of time, the governor’s office worked with lawmakers on a last-minute tweak to a bill to fund $6 million in early flood warning systems.

“Unfortunately, that funding was improperly appropriated to an account that cannot be accessed with this emergency action,” Abbott explained last week in his own letter to Hegar.

Among other items, lawmakers primarily intended the funding for flood gauges along Texas waterways like the Blanco River, which has no gauges along a 40-mile stretch upstream from Wimberley – the community hit with the heaviest and deadliest flooding on Memorial Day weekend.

“The state will be able to better monitor water levels and achieve timely flood alerts if funding is made available to install a technological network of stream gauges that will greatly enhance existing flood notification systems,” Abbott said, in declaring an emergency and requesting “immediate” funding.

Hegar said he is now working with Abbott’s office to contact those agencies to assess whether the funds located by his office are, in fact, available at this time – which should be known sometime this week. If not, his office “stands ready to establish an appropriation” from a disaster contingency account.

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