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From Hightower’s View “In Texas, groundwater literally is our lifestream, yet we have been taking an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude toward groundwater that endangers the long-term purity and usefulness of this essential resource. “Most Texans today live in large cities, and they assume that water comes from a tap, without giving much thought to where the pipes run that bring the water into our homes. In Texas, the majority of the water we use annually flows from groundwater sources to our farms, our factories, our municipalities, and our homes. Ninety percent of rural Texans depend on groundwater for their drinking, water. Our economy, our food, our clothing, and our health are linked directly to one hidden resource clean groundwater. “But just as this resource is largely unseen, so is the pollution that is seeping slowly into it. When a river or lake is contaminated, we rather quickly see the damage, smell it, and even feel it. But since groundwater is out of sight, we have been slow to pay much attention to contamination that will only get worse if we fail to take prudent steps now to protect it. “Basically, we need to adopt a policy that calls for nondegradation of our aquifers, and we need a mechanism to enforce that standard. from a Statement to the National Groundwater Policy Forum, chaired by then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt, D-Arizona, Austin, Dec. 2, 1985 “Preventing contamination in the first place is the only workable approach to maintaining a fresh, clean groundwater supply. Once the well is poisoned, it’s too late. “Our recommendations call for legislative, administrative, and voluntary steps that will move us in the direction of assuring that this vital, precious natural resource remains usable tomorrow and by future generations. “By bringing together people representing diverse interests and areas of expertise from both inside and outside of government, our Rural Water Task Force provided, a forum for dialogue on groundwater issues and the development of policy ideas that have resulted in some of the currently proposed legislation. “Recommendations in the report would be carried out by proposed legislation dealing with the creation and operations of underground water districts, management of groundwater in critical areas, enforcement of groundwater-quality standards, development of alternatives to land disposal of hazardous waste, regulation of underground storage tanks, and strengthening of water-well standards. “We have studied the problems of groundwater quality that have been a cause of growing concern among Texans, and now it is time for more effective action to protect our aquifers.” from a statement on release of “Protecting Texas Groundwater: Opportunities for State and Local Action,” April 6, 1987. caused groundwater contamination. A Department of Agriculture review of limited available information covering a recent three-year period, discovered approximately 100 cases of groundwater or land contamination from oilfield activities, probably just a small fraction of the total. There is increasing evidence of contamination from leaking, corroded underground storage tanks at gasoline stations. There are an estimated 100,000 underground petroleum and chemical tanks in Texas and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency five to ten percent of them are leaking. Water Commission staff say that so far, on the basis of very limited monitoring, several hundred cases of underground tank leaks have been reported in Texas, including some cases of gasoline contamination of drinking-water wells. A few cases of contamination from agricultural chemicals have been reported. Studies required by EPA are finding increasing evidence of drinkingwater contamination at pesticide-application facilities. Monitoring has been limited and it is likely that more thorough testing of groundwater in rural areas of Texas will reveal a significant number of cases of contamination from insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizer applications. Right now half a dozen state agencies have some responsibility for groundwater, but there is no coherent groundwater protection strategy . “I don’t know any other way to put it there is a fragmentation of responsibilities at the state level,” Clyde Bohmfalk of the Water Commission told the groundwater working group. “It’s a program-byprogram thing, and sometimes groundwater is tangential to the program.” Federal and state funds for groundwater programs are in short supply and enforcement of pollution control laws is underfunded, as are water testing, research and education. And lawmakers preoccupied with fiscal crises feel pressured to cut back on already limited groundwater protection guidelines. “We’re facing some rough times in this state, with oil prices, the state budget, and Gramm-Rudman,” Bohmfalk says. “Don’t count on a lot of money to help you fund these programs. If you’re a congressman and you have to choose between social security, defense, and environmental programs, which do you think you’d cut?” “You’ve got to educate the public so they’ll make demands on the politicians, just like they’ve been educated about the need for defense,” says Edd Fifer, director of the El Paso Water Improve ment District. “Right now politicians are more worried about losing their position if they raise the sales tax, and we’re not getting anywhere.” “I’m convinced the people in my district are willing to do what’s necessary, even though they’re very conservative about a lot of things,” says Larry Shaw. “I think the door is open now, but it’s going to require some tough decisions by the Legislature to ever get this thing under control.” THERE HAS BEEN some movement of proposed groundwater legislation in the legislature this year. A bill by Rep. Terral Smith, R Austin, to make needed changes in the law governing the creation and operation of local and regional groundwater conservation districts should pass. And legislation sponsored by El Paso Senator Tati Santies .teban that would set up a new program to regulate and monitor underground storage tanks has been passed and is likely to be enacted. Another Santiesteban bill \(sponsored the development of alternatives to land disposal of hazardous chemical wastes, such as waste recycling, detoxification, and destruction, and would prohibit land disposal of wastes for which a technologically feasible and economically reasonable alternative is available. Santiesteban’s bill has been favorably THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11