Improving Access to Water is Critical for the Health of All Texans

Having access to clean, potable water, indoor plumbing and a wastewater system is something many Texans take for granted. However, thousands of Texans, mostly living along the Texas-Mexico border in colonias lack these basic amenities. The State of Texas defines a colonia as “a residential area along the Texas–Mexico border that may lack some of the most basic living necessities such as potable water, septic or sewer systems, electricity, paved roads or safe and sanitary housing.”

As President & CEO of Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., I have heard the stories of Texans living along the border who are struggling with access to basic needs, and I’ve witnessed first-hand how the lack of potable water, septic or sewer systems, electricity, paved roads or safe and sanitary housing create barriers to health.

One example is the community of La Presa, a colonia in Webb County near Laredo. La Presa is a community of approximately 300, surrounds a lake at the center of town that is hidden by trees. Most families in this colonia do not have access to potable water and often have to drive to Laredo to pump water for their washing machines, sinks, toilets and tubs. The water isn't clean enough to drink so families must buy water bottles.

It's a tragic situation that many Texans are trying to solve. Webb County is moving forward with a first-ever water dispensary for their community, which is targeted to launch the summer of 2020. And, thanks to a partnership between Texas A&M University’s Colonias Program and the U.S. Department of Defense, the flood-prone road that families in La Presa depend on to get to school and work will be improved. It’s a great step forward, but there are hundreds more communities like La Presa that need help.

According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas, there are nearly 500,000 Texans living in nearly 2,300 colonias. 61.4 percent live at or near the federal poverty rate. 73.1 percent are U.S. citizens. In just six Texas counties along the Texas-Mexico border, 38,000 colonia residents do not have access to clean drinking water.

It bears repeating. Thousands of our fellow Texans are living without the most basic living necessities. No problems of this complexity have silver bullets, but there is a tangible way to stand beside our fellow Texans in pursuit of a solution simply by exercising your right to vote.

At Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., our mission calls us to “Serve Humanity to Honor God.” We fulfill our mission in a number of ways, including through the direct services we provide through our clinical operations and the grant funding we award to nonprofit organizations across South Texas – all sharing our commitment to helping increase access to care for the least served. However, we also seek to play a leading role in shaping the state’s policy agenda through our advocacy efforts.

During the Texas Legislature’s 86th Legislative Session, our organization, alongside other partners, supported the passage of Senate Bill 2452, which became known as Proposition 2 on the November ballot after being passed by both the Texas House & Senate.

Proposition 2 is a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that will allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue general obligation bonds for the Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP). EDAP is a program created by the Texas Legislature to assist disadvantaged communities with critical infrastructure projects. The amount of the bonds allowed by Proposition 2 cannot exceed $200 million and would be used to develop water supply and sewer projects in economically depressed areas, such as colonias, of the state.

This is a bill that passed with bipartisan support. However, to become law, it requires approval of the majority of Texas voters this November 5.

What can you do to help? Exercise your right to vote at the ballot box. By voting “Yes” to Proposition 2, you are ensuring that distressed communities across Texas have access to funds that will improve access to clean water.

Early voting started Monday, October 21 and runs through Friday, Nov. 1. Election Day is Tuesday, November 5.

In Texas, we take great pride in being there for one another. Be sure to lend a hand to your fellow Texans and vote “Yes” on proposition 2, so that all Texans can gain access to the clean, potable water we all need to live longer, healthier lives.

Jaime Wesolowski is President and CEO, Methodist Healthcare Ministries.