Sen. John Montford From there, the water bill went in two directions. The House made revisions on Feb. 4 in Craddick’s Natural Resources Committee. Senator John Montford, working with Hobby’s office, took into account many of the critical suggestions made in December and January and produced a substitute version of SB 138. So by the time the Senate Natural Resources Committee met on Feb. 6, the traditional House-Senate antipathy on this issue was beginning to develop. Cabbageheads Senator Ted Lyon, for one, interrupted the testimony of a commercial shrimper who was discussing coastal marine life, to ask if when he referred to “cabbageheads” he meant the members of the House committee who were trying to weaken coastal protection. Upcoming barbs may be somewhat less jovial. There were three main sticking points between the two houses at the time of the committee meeting: whether to directly fund conservation efforts by farmers, how much protection to write in for bays and estuaries, and whether to increase the state’s role in regulation of underground water reserves. It has become the role of Jim Hightower and a few other sensible heads to impress upon the state’s water planners a few elementary concepts. He will tell you it has become the favorite statistic of the session that 72 percent of the state’s water is used by agriculture and that this is the place to put conservation measures into effect. Hightower originally proposed devoting $8 10 million a year to fund agricultural conservation, primarily by helping farmers buy more water-efficient irrigation systems. Such programs could save 20 percent of the state’s water over the next 20 years, he said. Montford’s substitute bill proposes a $5 million pilot program to provide lowinterest loans for better irrigation equipment, and contains a section allowing the legislature to authorize an additional $200 million in bonds if the program works. Hightower applauded Montford’s bill at the committee hearing, saying, “We are finally getting on a fast track in dealing with this critical issue.” Sen. Bill Sarpalius \(who is thought argued that the bill didn’t do enough for agriculture. “Wouldn’t you support $200 million for agriculture right now?” he asked Hightower. The Ag Commissioner responded that he doubted such a plan could make it through the legislature. “So you’re supporting a bill that only gives five million to agriculture?” Sarpalius asked. “No, I’m supporting this bill because it makes a real difference,” Hightower said. Sarpalius took up the same question with Sen. Montford. Montford said the program had to remain small to make it palatable to the House. “The House committee chaired by Representative Craddick has traditionally been unsympathetic to the needs of agriculture,” he said.. Sarpalius responded, “I don’t like writing laws to please the House.” The guardians of the bays and estuaries turned out, too, in support of Montford’s bill, and made a few pointed remarks toward the House version. The Sierra Club said that the House bill “is a flawed piece of legislation which must be revised along the lines of the Senate Committee substitute before it will merit our support.” Much of the bay and estuary debate centers on a few key choices of words. The House, for example, wants to preserve “beneficial inflows” to the bays, the Senate uses the term “ecological health” instead. The difference may seem perplexing to the outsider, but environmentalists see “ecological health” as the stronger term; river authorities would feel less hamstrung by “beneficial inflows.” Interagency rivalry also finds its way into the B&E debate: the Senate plan authorized the Parks and Wildlife Department to conduct further testing on the bays; the House left that authority with the Texas Department of Water Resources. Environmentalists see the TDWR as too closely identified with the river authorities and are in support of the shift to Parks and Wildlife. The third and potentially most volatile dispute centers on state regulation of groundwater. Although most western states regulate the water below the ground, this is still a bugaboo in Texas, and it brings on charges of creeping Marxist-Leninism from some farmers. There are five active Underground Water Conservation Districts in the state and they employ minor oversight duties and, thus, are able to get along with the farmers. But the Senate proposes to allow the state to intervene in certain “critical” areas where voters have rejected the creation of an Underground Water District. This kind of talk sets the farmers running for their. muskets. Paul Peters, the Gonzales County farmer who testified to the Senate committee Feb. 6, said the creation of more districts was “an outrageous idea” an evil that might lead to the seizure and confiscation of private land. Social Godwinism The event that brought a certain resoluteness to the support of Montford’s bill at the Senate hearing was the meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee two days earlier. It wasn’t exactly that the House committee gutted the bill the way it had in the 1983 session. Rather, it refused to make improvements that environmentalists and conservation proponents had been urging since the Dec. 7 Joint Committee hearing. Specifically, the committee spurned the proposals of the Agriculture Department to fund changeovers in technology to help farmers irrigate more efficiently. The committee agreed to fund “educational” efforts to promote conservation among farmers, and earmarked $10 million dollars to a special fund, but took care that no money would go directly to farmers only to governmental agencies such as Underground Water Districts. This is a point that Rep. Craddick stubbornly insists upon, as if from a conviction that what is involved is no less than the fight to stave off state socialism. Craddick meets little resistance on the committee to this point; the committee is made up of six Republicans and only three Democrats. Typical of the West Texas conservative attitude that dominates the committee is that of firstterm Republican \(and Gib Lewis apGodwin explains his opposition to agricultural loan programs by stating Pho to by Alan Pog ue THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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