Page 15


Silos on Clayton Williams’s Fort Stockton farm Clayton Williams and West Texas Water BY ALLAN FREEDMAN Fort Stockton, Austin THE MARCH 1 Republican gubernatorial debate was on the whole uneventful. The candidates expounded on such issues as drugs and education, and the back-of-the-pack threesome appeared resigned that Clayton Williams Jr. would win the nomination. For his part, Williams looked more like a conservative businessman than the cowboy he often portrays in political advertisements. Wearing a dark suit and maroon tie, Williams’s grey Resistol hat was noticeably absent from his balding pate. For a few minutes, at least, the debate almost turned interesting, when Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka asked Williams how a Texan of the old school could adapt to more modern problems. Burka pointed out that Williams had personally pumped dry Comanche Springs in Fort Stockton, Williams’s hometown. Given this record, Burka wanted to know what role Williams believed the state should play in regulating groundwater in similar situations. Williams’s response was congenial enough. He smiled twice and outlined his answer with the grace of a businessman accustomed to boardroom presentations. He denied pumping dry the springs and he affirmed his support for current groundwater law. As is the custom in such political forums, Burka wasn’t permitted time to press the point. If he had been, the result of further questioning might have been interesting. For if there is any issue that reveals a different side to Clayton Williams a side the public has yet to see it is the issue of groundwater and Comanche Springs. To understand the importance of these issues is to understand that Clayton Williams is much more than a budding folk hero who once boasted, “I am Bubba.” Clayton Williams is indeed a Texan of the past, a man who stands for the most basic values of the old frontier. But these values have their costs. Williams, in the tradition of the frontier Texan, supports the most antiquated groundwater law in the Southwest and has opposed stepped-up government regulations. The current law and limited regulations protect Williams’s investment in a 12,000-acre farm just west of Fort Stockton; and it is widely believed that Williams’s Fort Stockton farm plays a significant role in preventing Comanche Springs from bubbling back to life. What’s more, Williams carries on a family tradition. Until the 1950s, more than 100 farmers east and north of town had relied on the springs to irrigate their land. Then, in the mid-1950s, Clayton Williams’s father, Clayton Williams, 4 JULY 27, 1990