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A Water Plan, Of Sorts Austin NOW THAT THE legislature has passed a water plan of sorts, there is bound to be a summer of hype coming. All the efforts to get the plan through the legislature and it took considerable effort to do it will be for naught if voters don’t approve the funding for the plan in November. Politicians will issue dire warnings that the state is running dry, editorialists will urge citizens to do the responsible thing, and those who really care about seeing the water plan pass will be praying for a summer drought, just to make sure voters are in an appropriately somber mood when they go to the polls. In truth, there is not much of a “water plan” to hype. What legislators have done is to agree on a plan to raise more than a billion dollars in bonds for various water projects, mostly minor ones, and mostly along the conventional lines of development. There is nothing truly innovative in the plan, and nothing that serves as a comprehensive approach to the fundamental water problems that have been slowly getting worse over the past decades as industrial and agribusiness development have marched forward. There is also, it must be said, nothing as wild-eyed as there has been in the previous over-ambitious water plans that have gone down to resounding defeat at the polls such as the 1968 plan to build a water importation pipeline from Arkansas to West Texas. There is darn-building called for in the present plan, but nothing yet on a large enough scale to arouse serious environmental opposition on that score alone. Voters will be asked to approve constitutional amendments in November authorizing $980 million in bonds to go to water development projects, plus $200 million for agricultural conservation projects, and $250 million in bonds to insure water bonds issued by cities. Of the $980 million, $590 million is specified for certain types of projects $190 million for wastewater treatment, $200 million to build water reservoirs and pipelines, and another $200 million for flood control projects. The other $400 million could go for any number of water projects, including regional wastewater treatment plants that could benefit several mid-size cities in proximity. The agricultural conservation program is a small portion of the water plan, and it could conceivably end up as next to nothing. The $200 million in bond money that would go to help farmers purchase more efficient irrigation equipment is contingent on the success of a $5 million pilot program in the next year. It will take a two-thirds vote in the next session of the legislature to actually free up the $200 million. Thus, what we have before us is a plan to help mostly small cities and towns \(large cities raise their own municipal to hold back some extra river water for commercial and residential uses, to find additional ways to get water from here to there, and to prevent too much of it from rushing into various flood plains. It is a continuation of the traditional Texas approach to water development, presented in as inoffensive a way as possible. Meanwhile, what little bit of a conservation plan that was offered was left hanging by a thread. This hardly constitutes an awe-inspiring legislative accom plishment, when you consider that more than 70 percent of the state’s water goes for agricultural irrigation. This would seem to be the logical place to begin to attack the state’s water problem, but to understand why that didn’t happen, you need to understand the byzantine \(as Ken Kramer of the it comes to water policy. WATER LEGISLATION in the House is under the control of a few conservatives, mostly from West Texas, mostly Republicans. They are led by Rep. Tom Craddick, the Republican from Midland who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. Serving as point man most often has been another Republican, Rep. Gerald Geistweidt of Mason. Craddick and Geistweidt teamed up this session, as they have in the past, to oppose most changes in the traditional way of doing things. They especially would not hear of proposals made early in the session, by Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, for one, to create state programs to share costs with farmers trying to convert to more water-efficient irrigation systems. Hightower argued that “the cheapest water is water we already have” and said that systems and techniques to conserve that water are already developed but not widely used. The Agriculture Commissioner advanced a proposal that he said would save $650 billion gallons of water enough to fill up the Astrodome a thousand times by converting to better irrigation equipment. The water bill that came out of the House contained no such proposals House members were opposed not only to cost-sharing but to state loans to farmers. The Senate’s version of the water bill originally had both programs. By the time the water bills had passed each chamber and a conference committee was appointed to work out the differences, the difference in approach to agricultural conservation was only one of many points of contention. Craddick and Geistweidt were hard bargainers throughout the seven weeks of conference committee hearings, standing firm for House positions against groundwater regulation, loans to farmers, and anything that might look like kowtowing to the environmentalist positions. They were opposed most vociferously by Sen. Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi, whose primary concern was the protection of coastal bays and estuaries. Sen. John Montford, D-Lubbock, used his wit and diplomacy during conference committee meetings and meanwhile negotiated almost daily behind the scenes with Craddick. In the end, the Senate got a concession from the House to allow the trial program of agricultural loans to go through, with the contingent $200 million bond program. But the House did not give in on groundwater regulation the changes made in that area are not substantial. ALTHOUGH AGRICULTURAL conservation programs will determine the ultimate success or failure of the state’s water policy, other concerns are likely to determine whether the plan survives at the polls. Chief among these is the debate over whether the coastal regions are adequately protected or whether the balance is tilted in favor of the upstream interests who believe they have better uses for the water than to let it flow into the Gulf of Mexico. This debate took a business interest vs. environmentalist tenor in many of the conference committee meetings, as Rep. Geistweidt locked horns with Sen. Truan. In an April 9 meeting Geistweidt and Truan argued about where the water for bays and estuaries ranks in importance relative to other uses. “I’d put it right at the bottom of the list,” said Geistweidt, arguing 8 JUNE 14, 1985