Austin AS THE SENATE Natural Resources Committee heard testimony late in the afternoon on February 6, a bespectacled man with thinning gray hair and a mustard-colored suit sat patiently listening, never seeming to lose interest, never slouching, occasionally smiling a knowing smile. He held his typewritten testimony in his hands. Witness after witness appeared at the head of the committee table set up in the middle aisle of the Senate floor; the setting sun came glaring through the south windows, and the man sat and watched from Sen. Ray Farabee’s chair a good spot, first row over from the committee table. Ringside. The question at hand was Senate Bill 138, otherWise known as this year’s water bill, sponsored by Sen. John Montford of Lubbock. After all the speakers had spoken, the man in the mustard-colored suit got the attention of the committee chairman. The man said he was from out of town. He would like to testify. Committee clerks sighed. Senators looked at their watches. But permission was granted. “My name is Paul Peters,” the man began. “My wife and I live on a small farm which straddles the beautiful hills of De Witt and Gonzales counties.” He said he grew grain and hay and grazed cattle on his 100-acre farm. It soon became clear that Mr. Peters was against the water bill. It sounded as if he got more and more against it as he went along. He called the water bill “quite possibly the most scurrilous piece of proposed legislation ever presented to the Texas House and Senate.” He said: “This ambitious program would literally control every drop of water in the state, totally control our economy, and actually control our very lives.” Mr. Peters went on in this vein for a good 15 minutes, then thanked the committee members for their time. The story is useful for two reasons. In considering what this year’s water bill is, we can be pretty sure that this is what it is not: It is not the most scurrilous proposal ever put before the Texas Legislature, and it is not a program to control every drop of water in the state. The second thing it tells us is that water is a very touchy issue here. People get a little worked up. The last time the legislature tried to pass a water bill, things ended acrimoniously: the bill died when the House and the Senate couldn’t agree. No earnest and well-meaning differences here; Sen. John Montford put the blame for the bill’s demise directly on Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland. “Tommy’s basically had a very unhappy childhood,” said Montford. Truan said the plan proposes a massive scheme of water development pro jects before a water conser vation plan is in. place. This year the House and Senate have again set off on different courses. Even though the identical bill was filed in both chambers before the session began, the Senate bill was worked over by Sen. Montford and the House bill was given a different face in Rep. Craddick’s Committee on Natural Resources on Feb. 4. The site of battle has now become the conference committee where five members from each chamber will joust and parry and struggle for common ground. The Evolution This year’s water fight is in most ways the traditional Texas water fight, but scaled down from previous years. It is over nothing so grand as the old billion-dollar dreams of re-routing the Mississippi River to Lubbock. Today’s water plan is more modest than former Speaker of the House Billy Clayton’s plan in 1981 to earmark half of all future surpluses to water development \(although that would be a modest plan Clayton’s plan became known to the voters as Proposition 4, and the voters made it known they didn’t like it. It became the third statewide water plan to go down to defeat at the polls since the 1960s. Out of that defeat came the package of bills that became the 1983 water plan the one that never made it out of the legislature. In the aftermath of that defeat an interim House and Senate committee led by Sen. Tati Santiesteban of El Paso and Rep. Craddick began work on a new bill. In the middle of last year, it became the task of staffers of Governor Mark White, Lt. Governor Bill Hobby, and Speaker of the House Gib Lewis to pull the bill together. By last fall it was made clear that water would be the top priority of the coming session. The work of Harry Bradley in White’s office, Mary Rinaldi in Lewis’s office, and Steve Stagner of Hobby’s staff became Senate Bill 138 and House Bill 2, filed in November. The bill, at its most basic, proposed to issue $600 million in bonds \(both sewage treatment and other water qual ity programs, and to build some new reservoirs. The money would have to be approved by a statewide referendum this November. The new water bill immediately drew fire. The Joint Interim Committee on Water Resources met on the Senate floor Dec. 7, and Sen. Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi announced, “I am ready to fight.” Truan charged that the plan “proposes a massive scheme of water development projects, that is dams and reservoirs, before any semblance of a self-respecting water conservation program is in place and given half a chance.” He also noted that the first definition of “conservation” in the bill was “the development of water resources.” Commisioner of Agriculture Jim Hightower was on hand, too, to urge stronger conservation measures. “The secret is to get more efficient use of Texas’ existing water supply,” he said, and he went on to propose a four-point conservation program for the state’s agricultural users by far the biggest water users in Texas. Truan also complained that the bill did not do enough to protect the Gulf Coast. This is always one of the major brouhahas in a water fight environmentalists and coastal fishermen insist that enough water be left to flow freely down the Texas rivers so that the bays and estuaries remain intact and productive. Cities, river authorities, and reservoir owners upstream, of course, have other uses for the water. The Sierra Club also found the bill deficient in its protection of the coast and withdrew support for the bill. This Year’s Water Fight Waist Deep in the Big Muddy By Dave Denison 4 FEBRUARY 22, 1985
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