‘FREE ‘VOICES By Pete Gunter Denton The application of Sunbelt rhetoric to the cold realities of Texas’ natural wealth has created the mirage that our state’s economy is somehow immune to the ills that have humbled New York City and laid Cleveland low. This promise of endless economic expansion has prompted Northerners and Northern corporations to stream southward to join in the regional bonanza. But their influx is itself part of the looming problem, for it is rapidly altering the favorable balance between population and resources that has made the Lone Star state’s prosperity possible. Gauging the population growth swollen by this migration is the first step toward seeing the troubles on the horizon. Texas absorbs 22,000 new immigrants each month; Houston packs in 6,000. By 1980 Texas will be home to 13.4 million people, and by the year 2000, just 2.1 years from now, the total will reach 18.3 milliona jump of more than half over the 1970 population of 12 million. According to current estimates, by 2030, 50 years from now, there will be no fewer than 30.5 million Texans. Projections past the year 2000 are perilous, but the conditions that already dump the equivalent of a good-sized town in Texas every month show not the slightest sign of abating. And the projected increases do not take into account the other, subterranean migration into Texas: the one from Mexico. These calculations are portentous, for the 18 million-plus citizens of 21 years from now will not be evenly dispersed across the state. Most will have to find space in eastern Texas, however much they may desire to live in Dalhart, Herefcird or Turkey. The reason is water. The waters of the. Oglalla Sands Aquifer, which have supported a lucrative irrigated agriculture on the High Plains, are rapidly diminishing. By the 1990s large areas of the Panhandle-High Plains region will run out of irrigation water entirely. Thus, a third migration is in store, this time an internal one from a dry and depopulating West Texas. State officials,’ hoWever, far from planning to cope with that situation, have been conjuring up visions of plentiful new supplies of water for West Texans. The first was the Texas Water Plan, an immodest proposal to divert the floodwaters of the’ lower Mississippi River from Louisiana across Texas to the High Plains. That plan, narrowly rejected by the state’s voters in .1969, would have cost $1.9 billion per year for 100 years, according to a conservative estimate by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and would have consumed 60 billion kilowatt hours per year of electricity to pump the water uphill. More recently Texas officials have been dickering with Arkansas for the right to purchase that state’ spring runoff, and with. Oklahoma for a sfiare of the proposed Sooner variant of the Mississippi diversion plan. But neither state seems likely to pat’t readily with a resource each will need for itself. Not.to mention the problem of coming up with the money for these schemes- staggering sums of money that water lobbyists do not care to total up, and that may in the end prove impossible to raise. Realizing, then, that the eastern half of Texas is in for a triple migrationfrom West Texas as well as from the North and from Mexicoone begins to grasp the reality of the picture demographers have drawn of a megalopolis stretching from San Antonio through Austin to Waco, through Dallas-Fort Worth to Sherman-Denison on the Red River. Also in the picture, along the upper Gulf Coast, is another megalopolis already reaching out to enfold Corpus Christi, Victoria, Houston and Beaumont in a single smoky embrace. . In ‘this coastal region, some consequences of runaway growth are already being felt. Most striking is land subsidence of from one to 15 feet, centering around Pasadena and spreading out toward Houston, paralleling the coast for over 40 milesa result of the extraction of underground water to meet expanding industrial needs. Also noteworthy is an unusually high incidence of cancer, which has risen in tandem with increases in air pollution. Then there -are the round-the-clock traffic jams and rushhour paralyses that would make Los Angelenos blanch, and the suburbs spreading so fast that by no stretch of the The state’s moneyed establishment may talk blandly about “balanced growth,” but the essence of their policy is: Get Yours Now Damn the Future. imagination can city services keep up with construction. The alreadypressing problems caused by rapid growth in the Houston area might be overcome if there were infinite resources to draw on. But Texas’ resources are rather less than infinite. Water shortages are a sure prospect, but oil and gas come next. And after that come forests, and range and farmland. Hard as it may be to believe, Texas is on the verge of running out of oil; somewhat later, natural gas will follow. This is not to say that there will never again be gas or oil in Texas, but vast, cheap stores of these fuels will not be with us long. As the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology reported in 1977: “If trends established in the past 15 years continue, the current 10 billion barrels of proven oil reserves will be exhausted within a decade; the 70 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves will , be depleted by the early 1990s.” It is possible that these “dismal projections,” as the bureau put it, could be changed if more new oil could be found. But while the amount of oil exploration since 1950 has increased in Texas, the amount of oil found has decreased. Since 1950 finding rates haVe averaged a mere 40 barrels per foot of drillingabout 5 percent as much as in the ’20s and ’30s. Even if Texas’ known oil reserves could be doubled through intensive \(and ex 20 APRIL 13, 1979
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