Suggestions and Speculations Regarding Speaker’s Water Plan By Amy Johnson Austin It all sounds so harmless: a fund for the development of water. No one wants the lawn to turn crisp brown or the water to drip slowly out of the showerhead in the morning. When advocates of the Clayton Plan conjure a picture of this second largest state in the nation shriveling up like a raisin, Texans pay close attention. Cloaked in the rhetoric of “trust” and legislative foresight, Clayton’s water fund in fact would soak up state dollars as quick as a “fast-working” Bounty paper towel. No strings are attached to the bonds as long as they finance “water projects,” whatever that means. Perforce, we must speculate. In 1968, the water hustlers in this state tried to pass the “Texas Water Plan,” a $7 billion scheme to import water from Mississippi to West Texas. The plan failed. Ever since, most West Texas legislators have been moaning and groaning about the coming water crisis without laying undue emphasis on what’s causing it. Their constituents are pumping water from the Ogallala Aquifer \(which underoverdraft that is nearly equal to the annual flow of the Colorado River. The exhaustion of the Ogallala is no small matter. This ancient resource of the American nation is not the result of, say, a thousand years of floods, or ten thousand; it is what they call a fossil aquifer, pooled up millions of years ago, in ancient geologic times. In 1976 Congress created the six-state High Plains Study Council and charged it to investi The writer, whose story on college construction funding appeared in the Observer recently, is a senior Plan II student at UT-Austin. She has undertaken further work on water for the Observer. 20 SEPTEMBER 11, 1981 gate what’s happening to the Ogallala. Bill Clements and Bill Clayton sit on that council. The Army Corps of Engineers has been examining four possible routes for the importation of water to the High Plains, two of them from Arkansas through East Texas to the Panhandle and West Texas. Not until the middle of 1982 will the council release its results, but in 1979 the Texas legislature passed a bill allowing the creation of an “Ogallala Import Authority” to contract for water. PROVING that Clayton’s water trust fund is a front for still another water importation plan is impossible at this point. However, Clayton’s plan specifically permits the Texas Water Developterbasin transfers,” provided these will not jeopardize the supplies needed in the basis of origin for the next 50 years. Present laws do not allow the board to handle transfers. The newest thing in the plan is the authority for the state to make transfers of water between river basins. The 50-year limitation sounds concrete, but it cannot be determined objectively because the next half-century of the indeterminate future cannot be foreseen, even by regions. Planners, of course, must make guesses into the future, but the point is that the bureaucrats will have broad new power to move water around between river basins. Some people in the state water bureaucracy are said to regard the interbasin-transfer authority as the most important part of the plan all the rest, secondary. Even though the water trust fund could not totally finance importation to West Texas \(the projected enough money to build the system part by part, this piece with this money, that with that, until it becomes politically and economically plausible to connect it up. Importing water benefits a small segment of the state. We all pay the bill, but agribusiness gets the most water. Irrigaall the Texas water tapped from the 3,700 streams and tributaries, 173 reservoirs, and 24 major and minor aquifers in 1980. By the year 2000, the TWDB predicts, irrigation will consume 18.36 million acre-feet of water more than the entire state uses now. By 2030 that figure will be 22.18. The ordinary Texan taking long showers, watering the lawn in the middle of the day, and washing the car once a week does not use a sixth as much of our water resources as irrigation does, and 70% of this irrigation occurs in West Texas where the aquifer is being exhausted. Texas farms not only use most of the water, they also get it at low cost. This is not to say that we should raise the cost immediately, but rather to point out that the taxpayers are underwriting agribusiness in Texas. In 1977, whether farmers irrigated or not they earned about $13 an acre. By 2020, irrigated farmland will make $108 an acre, but a dryland farm, $39 an acre. No wonder the West Texans want water. INSTEAD OF manipulating the water supply, we should be emphasizing conservation and reclamation projects. During droughts, Californians have saved 25% to 30% of their water through simple conservation measures. Forget Jimmy Carter in his blue cardigan asking us to turn down the thermostat. Conservation does not necessarily mean sacrifice; conservation produces. Drip irrigation uses much less water than open-air sprinkling. Irrigation scheduling alone could reduce the depletion of the Ogallala by 25% to 30%. Now, don’t laugh: If we just put big rocks in our toilets, which use 45% of the household water; if we turned the faucet off while we brushed our teeth; if we collected rainwater in a barrel; and if we installed self-metering shower heads, we could save 30% to 70% of the water we use in our households. Building reservoirs is not always the best solution: Texas should have an intelligent and well-balanced water policy. To move water from one place to another solves the problem at one end, but creates a new problem at the other end. Although the Clayton Plan does not preclude some of the fund going to conservation, there is no promise that Texas will first try to conserve. There is not even a commitment that we will stringently guard the water we have from pollution. It’s not true that there’s always “more where that came from.” The Clayton Plan pretends there is. Billy Clayton plays politics like a Bobby Fischer. His water “trust” fund may sound harmless. But it’s not.
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