AUSTIN ‘ The Texas Water Development Board has approved a plan that calls for construction of eight new reservoirs at a cost of nearly $18 billion. What projects are funded, and how, will be up to the Legislature. The new plan is based on recommendations from 16 regional planning districts created by the Legislature in 1997. The proposed projects are intended to help the state meet population growth and the resulting increased water demand. Rural affairs names new director’ Robert J. ‘Sam’ Tessen has been named as the first executive director of the newly created Office of Rural Community Affairs. Tessen has been serving as executive director of the state Telecommunications Infra-structure Board. Prior to that, he was director of the Center for Rural Health Initiatives. He’ll assume his new position on Jan. 1. The winner is’ For most creative press release recently received, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The press release urges Texans to ‘give the gift of energy efficiency this holiday season.’ It goes on to list commercially available energy saving devices with a retail price of $30 or less. So, if you’re still doing your shopping, here are some ideas from TDHCA: ‘ Water heater jacket. (For your water heater, not Grandpa.) Estimated cost: $14-$25. ‘ Fiberglass pipe wrap. Estimated cost: $3-$5. ‘ Programmable thermostat. Estimated cost: $26. ‘ Compact fluorescent light bulbs. Estimated cost: $8-$20 each. Finally, for that special someone, clear silicone sealant. Estimated cost: $4-$6 a tube. If none of these stocking stuffers appeal, the commission suggests playing Santa and installing energy efficient equipment or weatherizing materials for those on your gift list. For more energy-saving gift ideas, check the commission’s web site at www.tdhca.state.tx.us. Speaking of efficiency If you’ve been eating birthday cake for a number of years, you’ll recall the days when even a little ice on roadways could paralyze a city. Those days may not be over, but thanks to the Texas Department of Transportation, the REALLY bad days may be fewer in number. A case in point was the November snow and ice storm that hit Texas. Austin, where motorists tend to start crashing their vehicles when someone accidentally drops a few ice cubes on I-35, was on the edge of the storm. Ice came down, but it did not stick to any bridges or overpasses. One reason was that the storm moved quickly. Another had to do with TxDOT and chemistry. Used to be, all TxDOT could do was spread sand and salt on roadways. Now, the transportation agency puts down chemicals that prevent ice from forming in the first place. Bottom line for Texas motorists: Safer roadways during ice storms, less damage to bridges from corrosion, lower costs in work crew stand-by time.