JAMES EVANS This publication is available in ‘microform frees University Mkrofilos International. CoU tall-fros 600-521-3044. Or mail inquiry to. University Microfilms international. 300 North blob Rand. Ann Arbor. MI 481011. statewide controls, local conservation districts are the only real means for regulating groundwater. The proposed district would have had the authority to tax and to enforce regulations, such as requiring permits for irrigation wells. Williams called the bill “antibusiness, anti-oil and gas and anti-Chamber of Commerce … I believe in private ownership and the right to do what we want with our properties, and this will take that away.” After the proposal’s defeat, Williams backed the creation of a water district more to his own liking, but the district ran into a legislative roadblock when it became clear that its design gave Williams considerable control over its management. In the view of many, the courts would allow more stringent state regulation of groundwater. The roadblock to reform in the recent past has been the Legislature. “There is the constitutional means to regulate groundwater, but the question has mainly been political,” said Stuart Henry, the Austin environmental attorney. “I’m convinced if Clayton Williams gets elected, there won’t be any groundwater regulations.” Billy Clayton, the Texas House Speakerturned-lobbyist, is a key Williams adviser who could influence Williams on the question of groundwater. In his days in the House, Clayton was widely credited with preventing passage of groundwater laws. Billy Clayton said in a recent interview that like Williams, he believes that control of groundwater is “a property right given under our Constitution.” Clayton said local people should regulate groundwater through water districts and said he would offer this advice to Williams: “If the local people don’t control, don’t preserve, and don’t protect, it’s time for the state to step in and act.” But current law, as interpreted by government regulators, restricts the state’s ability to act. The Texas Water Commission has some say in regulating the quality of groundwater, but has little authority to control the amount of water used by individual landowners. How would his private philosophy concerning the exploitation of natural resources influence public policy if Clayton Williams Jr. were elected governor? And what sort of model for public policy can be found in the use of underground water in Fort Stockton? As author Gunnar Brune put it, “The failure of Comanche Springs was probably the most spectacular example in Texas of man’s abuse of nature.” Today the old springs site is littered with garbage. A rusty cage has been placed over the once-prodigious Comanche Chief to prevent the curious from exploring caves below it. The old irrigation canals are overgrown with weeds. On the Williams farm, gas-driven engines pump cool, clear water and huge circular irrigation systems hum like cicadas. Rich soil yields oats, wheat, and dark green alfalfa with purple buds. Herds of white-tail deer sometimes 100 strong graze undisturbed and wild turkeys run through a knee-high crop of alfalfa. Excess Comanche Chief Spring, 1990 water on one section of farm lies on top of the land, forming a kind of large puddle. Velasco boasts of the farm’s efficient use of water. He points out that the old flood-irrigation method has largely been replaced by more efficient circular irrigation systems. But there is enough runoff to create a three-acre lake used for recreation by Williams’s employees. The lake is stocked with fish and serves as a backdrop for company barbecues. Echoing Velasco, Billy Clayton said that as a farmer Williams understands the importance of conserving water. “He knows that if you don’t conserve and protect it, it would be a depleting resource,” Clayton said. About an hour’s drive from Fort Stockton is the tiny West Texas town of Balmorhea, where farmers still irrigate their land with water from springs. The water moves through concrete irrigation canals that connect San Solomon Springs to local farms. On a recent spring day, teenagers cooled off in the springs, surrounded by rich vegetation. On a sign explaining the history of the springs are three words much bigger than the rest: “A Desert Oasis.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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