Page 1


The billion dollar boondoggle John Graves, The Water Hustlers, The Sierra Club: New York, $7.95, 253 pp. Austin As John Graves points out, the Texas Water Plan, that bizarre scheme to pump water from the Mississippi River uphill 2,000 miles to dry West Texas, is not dead; but Graves himself inflicts well-nigh mortal wounds to the grandiose plan in The Water Hustlers. The book, published by the Sierra Club, is an examination of water source manipulation in Texas, California and New York. In the Texas section, Graves, author of Goodbye to a River, combines a lyrical appreciation of the state’s natural resources with devastating criticism of what he calls “that stud buzzard of all Grand Plans.” What’s more, the book’s well written. Graves manages to combine his love of the land and his outrage at what politicians are trying to do to it without maundering. I N 1969, Texans narrowly defeated a $3.5 billion \(yes, bond proposal for what was vaguely called “water development.” At that time, the Observer, without resorting to hyperbole, called the Plan “the biggest boondoggle in the history of the world.” The $3.5 billion figure has now escalated to $13.5, according to Graves. For that tidy sum, the Texas Water Development Board wants to dig a Trans-Texas canal from Northeast Texas to the High Plains, with one spur carried on to New Mexico and another built down to the Trans-Pecos. A second system would carry water 400 miles from the Sabine to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The water, ultimately some 17.3 million acre-feet per year, would come from Texas reservoirs and from the Mississippi. Texas planners projected that a government entity other than the State of Texas would pay for the Louisiana ditch. According to Graves’ calculations, that concrete canal extending from the Mississippi would have to be more than 900 feet wide and 40 feet deep to import the amount of water required by the Plan. The Water Development people never made it clear how Texas was going to convince her sister states to supply all that water. Graves quotes Sen. Russell Long, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as telling his Louisiana constituents, “Texas will get our water over my dead body.” The Sierra Club book also raises the question of how Mississippi water would affect the Ogallala formation under the Texas Plains. “The probable chemical antipathy between Mississippi water and the rocks and clays of the Ogallala is an interesting matter which has not been aired very widely,” Graves writes. Even if Texas could get the water from A review I I the Mississippi \(available only during heavy flow periods, perhaps only two months out rageous, Graves says. By the time it reached the High Plains, the water would cost a prohibitive $70 an acre-foot. In order to support West Texas irrigation farmers in the manner to which they have become accustomed, Texas would have to make reservoirs out of two to three million acres of valuable land in East Texas. The canal system would alter the natural flow of every river and estuary in the state. There is a serious possibility that the water system would provide insufficient fresh water for the bays, thus ruining them for recreation and commercial fishing. GRAVES OFFERS his own nontechnical, common sense criteria for water management in Texas. First on his list is flexibility. “The best water scientists in this country are coming to believe that the day of Grand Plans may be drawing to an end, and that planning in the future will have to take into fundamental account a diversity of possible goals and means of reaching those goals, questioning itself at every step and backtracking whenever it finds its assumptions were wrong,” he writes. “There is, of course, a vast gulf between that kind of planning and the tunnel-visioned, dinosaurish, forward surge proposed in the Texas Water Plan, which would play huge how with the way the world works and never raise any real questions about the necessity.” He suggests that it is logical to encourage people to live where the water most naturally is, i.e., that part of Texas east of the 30-inch rainfall line, rather than transporting East Texas’ water to the High Plains. And, he recommends bringing Texas farmers, i.e., those farmers who are draining the Ogallala aquifer to maintain their irrigation economy, “into accord with hydrologic reality rather than contort hydrologic reality to make it fit a destructive, uneconomic and obsolescent pattern of farming.” Graves’ water plan would use the expertise of “ecologists and biologists and landscape and wildlife people and humanists” as well as politicians and money men. \(He points out that Texas’ first water study commission was chaired by none other than George R. Brown of Brown & Root, perhaps the biggest ditchThe writer advocates “separating water `needs’ from water ‘demands’ with the aim of meeting the latter only within reason rather than encouraging extravagant use at the general public’s expense.” He wouldn’t be so thrifty when it comes to spending money . for pollution control and for preserving estuaries and rivers. “A good program would be nasty and prying and carping and intolerant and full of teeth and superbly funded. . ..” AT PRESENT, the Texas Water Plan is dormant. Gov . Preston Smith, a High Plainsman himself, admits at this point it might be better to go about water development in a piecemeal fashion. But Graves warns that it would be overly optimistic to assume that the era of the Grand Plan is over. He believes that Texas politicians are “all eat up with the big ass” and that they’ll try again and again to enact their grand scheme in one form or another. Their success could be disastrous. “It has been said that if the Texas Water Plan were carried through, not a mile of wild stream or an acres of bottom land would survive in a natural state in the eastern two-thirds of Texas. The statement is probably not far from the truth,” Graves writes. “The danger is not just to those sections that would be inundated by reservoirs though enormous hunks of some East Texas counties would be. Even where surviving river stretches downstream from reservoirs were not channelized for water conveyance, flood control or other purposes, their rhythms of flow and even their chemistry and microbiology . . . would be greatly changed and further change would snowball outward from that fact. “Do you need to have been a river addict to see that this would matter?” Graves asks. “Do you need to have known lightning bugs and owls and the purl of green water in lantern light, with the trotline surging in your hand as you pull the boat along it, or the exultation of a canoe in fast mean water, or river-bottom squirrel hunting with a good feist dog, or any of the thousand other pleasures that go with rivers, to have a sense of what such K.N. loss would mean?” December 17, 1971 9 If you think Nietzsche plays for the Packers you may not like Nternatiee 913 W 24