Gov. Rick Perry on Friday announced his picks for the new governing body of the Texas Water Development Board, after a major shake-up of the board by the Legislature this year. The Water Development Board, a state agency of fewer than 300 people, serves as the state's water infrastructure bank.
Carlos Rubinstein, currently a member of the Texas Commission on Environment Quality, will serve as chairman of the three-member governing board. A Brownsville native, Rubinstein was water master for the Rio Grande River and has also worked on environmental infrastructure and other issues on the Mexican border. The remaining two members will be Mary Ann Williamson, an energy executive, and Bech Bruun, Perry's director of governmental appointments.
Williamson is the widow of the late Ric Williamson, who was a state representative from Weatherford and a longtime friend of Perry's. Mary Ann Williamson now owns the company her husband founded, MKS Natural Gas, in which Perry has owned stake. She also currently chairs the Texas Lottery Commission. Bruun is former government and customer relations manager for the Brazos River Authority.
The new board will differ greatly from the old one, which was made up of six part-time volunteers from across the state. Amid disagreement over the role of the agency in shaping water policies and management strategies across Texas, state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, this year pushed for the change in board structure, which now reflects the make-up of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's leadership. The new board positions are paid, full-time positions of $150,000. That means Rubinstein's salary will stay the same, while Bruun's will increase from $122,500.
Lawmakers also wanted at least one of the new board members to have a background in finance, since the board may be in charge of $2 billion in new loan funds should Texans approve the use of the money in November. Williamson and Bruun have degrees in business administration. The Governor's Office said Rubinstein has a background in engineering, which is also a requirement the legislature implemented this year.
The three new board members will have tough jobs ahead of them, with the agency's profile growing considerably as the drought has worsened. Whether or not voters approve $2 billion in new funds for water infrastructure projects in November, the board's funding decisions will be watched closely, and advocates and lawmakers expect it to play a more active role in shaping the future of water supplies and management for the state.
Some may be disappointed that none of those appointed have a farming background. Three members of the outgoing board, whose last meeting was Thursday, have been farmers or ranchers.
"You've got people from big cities, you've got people from small towns, you've got people from all parts of the state," said outgoing member Ed Vaughan of Boerne, who is also a director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattleraisers Association. "This agency is often all that's available for small cities," especially rural areas.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/08/16/perry-appoints-new-water-development-board/.