To Flow or Not to Flow: A Policy Analysis on the Implementation of Environmental Flow Legislation in Texas




Filippone, Francesca

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Environmental flows are essential in sustaining healthy waterways. Thus, in 2007, the 80th Texas Legislature enacted Senate Bill 3, which required environmental flow standards for priority river basins in Texas to be adopted through a science and stakeholder process with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality statutorily-required to make the final decision on the proposed environmental flow standards. Since the Legislature’s enactment of the environmental flows process outlined in Senate Bill 3, the question has surfaced: Has Senate Bill 3 resulted in protecting environmental flows? While research on Senate Bill 3 has given insight into the adoption status of environmental flow standards in Texas and whether or not environmental flows were protected, there has not been a policy analysis on the implementation of action items in the environmental flows process outlined in statute. Therefore, the goal of this study was to assess Senate Bill 3 for implementation status of action items in the environmental flows process outlined in statute. To do this, I conducted a top-down implementation policy analysis on Senate Bill 3 to determine if the identified actors implemented all of the action items. My results show that, while many parts of Senate Bill 3 concerning environmental flows were implemented, many parts were only partially implemented or not implemented at all. Of 77 discrete obligatory action items I identified, 64 were implemented, 7 were partially implemented, and 6 were not implemented. Of the obligatory action items not implemented or partially implemented, 7 of them concerned actions by the Environmental Flows Advisory Group and 5 of them concerned actions by a basin and bay area stakeholder committee. In addition to the partially and not implemented obligatory actions, the terminology that refers to river basins of the State led to the fragmentary implementation of Senate Bill 3. The turnover of Texas’ political leadership since 2007 also attributed to the fragmented implementation of Senate Bill 3. If it wants to fulfill the intent of Senate Bill 3, the Legislature should consider modifying statute to (1) either incentivize the Advisory Group to complete its assigned duties or remove it from the process, (2) clarify the process when a party refuses to accomplish its tasks, and (3) clarify the processes for completing assessments of the other basins of the state and reviewing environmental flow standards at least every 10 years.



Texas, environmental flows, Senate Bill 3, policy analysis, Applied Geography


Filippone, F. (2022). To flow or not to flow: A policy analysis on the implementation of environmental flow legislation in Texas. Master of Applied Geography Degree, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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