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AFTERWORD Wet Dreams BY CHAR MILLER San Antonio THIS SUMMER, San Antonians have had water on the brain. I don’t mean in the deadly, physiological sense, nor, alas, in its more delightful meteorological context; we haven’t, had a significant downpour in some time. Rather, the city once again has been fixated on the politics of water, a fixation that always bubbles forth during the annual dry season. This year, however, the obsession reached new heights, as the River City faced a midAugust .vote on the construction of the Applewhite Reservoir. On August 13, voters rejected the city-proposed reservoir by a substantial margin, 55 percent to 45 percent, a margin wider than in the contentious 1991 vote on the same project. As Applewhite’s detractors chanted, “No means No!” Or does it? Although the summer-long debate had been intense, and its outcome in doubt until the last minute, the final result was of little consequence. Neither Applewhite’s supporters nor its opponents bothered to address the most significant issue that San Antonio’s unquenchable thirst poseshow to control that thirst. The Applewhite project offered little hope in this regard. First proposed in the 1960s, and fought over ever since, it was most recently designed to capture “gray water,” the non-potable stuff that would then be exchanged with cities downstream for some of their rights to Canyon Lake’s water harvest. This was supposed to ease San Antonio’s hitherto exclusive reliance on the Edwards Aquifer and help address rulings in a lawsuit the Sierra Club has filed to defend threatened species such as the Fountain Darter and San Marcos Salamander that live within the Edwards’ diminished springs. In South Texas, we’re all dying for water. Which is probably why the debate over Applewhite boiled over. Its most visible proponents were members of the civic, commercial and political elite, and they poured $900,000 into a media blitz to flog their case. Applewhite, a necessary supplement to dwindling supplies of “white gold,” was an Char Miller, co-editor of Urban Texas: Politics and Development history at Trinity University in San Antonio. essential ingredient for an expanding economy. What was good for business was good for the commonweal. Without the reservoir, the city’s future was decidedly bleak. To accept that trickle-down argument, the reservoir’s cash-poor opponents loudly asserted, was to capitulate to those whose narrow commitment to the community’s future began and ended with the bottom linetheirs. Besides, they argued, the aquifer is probably limitless and the Sierra Club lawsuit could have been finessed by augmenting the springs. If San Antonians had bought into Applewhite, they would have been sold down the river. HOSE WERE SOME of the highlights of the debate, but it was a long summer for those poor souls who tried faithfully to divine each permutation in argument and decipher each shift in tone and posture. There was some comic relief, such as the CEO of a local communications company, who was a firm supporter of the reservoir, and who went on air to skewer one of his station’s popular talk show hosts for his unremitting hostility to the project. The boss then turned around and defended that employee’s right to dissent. It was small pleasures such as this, like a welcome bit of shade, that enabled us to endure the scorching heat. Yet the debate was cooked. Each side, for all their differences, in fact hawked visions that shared one critical value: San Antonio’s salvation lay in the maintenance of an endless stream of inexpensive water. Those who appeared to have been at polar opposites were linked to a calculation that has determined the city’s growth and development strategies for the ‘past half-century. That calculus is central to the city’s sense of self, and the city has used it to market itself to itselfand to the outside world in an attempt to attract more jobs and new industry. At the heart of this packaging lies two commodities: a lower cost of living \(read: symbiotic relationship in an economy driven largely by tourism and military spending. Beginning in the 1930s with the creation of the fabled Riverwalk, a tourist trap that snakes through the central core, San Antonio has been built upon the weave of work and water. This has been as true for the older downtown, where hotels line the river’s banks, as it has been for the newer, intense development along the far-flung suburban ‘ frontier, a once-open landscape where one subdivision after another share space and city utilities with vast theme parks such as Fiesta Texas and Sea World, biotechnological and computer corporations and large air bases. Without low wages and ample water, none of these could have been constructed. This construct of homes, work and entertainment, and its major contribution to, the city’s increasing water problems, never were discussed in the Applewhite debate. To have done so would have compelled each group to confront the issue of conservation. Anti-Applewhite forces saw little merit in mandated pumping limits, for example, believing instead that the development of recharge dams, designed to channel runoff back into the aquifer, was all that was neces sary. Applewhite supporters avoided the use of the word “conservation.” It appears but once in the text of the City of San Antonio’s “2050 Water Plan,” which was an attempt to meet the community’s ever-expanding water needs without raising costs. So neither group was willing to promote and mandate such effective innovations as low-flush toilets and reduced-flow shower heads, to demand restrictions in the number of building permits, or to advocate rigorous, compulsory v controls on landscape maintenance in a city where more than 35 percent of all water pumped is sprayed onto unnaturally green lawns. It will be some time, then, before San Antonio’s restaurants will display a sign such as I saw in a cafe in thought-stricken California, where customers were notified that dishwasher discharge was being used to flush the toilets, conserving more than two million gallons a year. We value cheap water too much. It would be nice, now that Applewhite is dead, if the community would come to its senses, recognize the unavoidable clash between population growth and limited resources, and act with dispatch to control both. But that’s not likely to happen when the two sides in this water fight offer no credible alternatives to the other’s illusions. That leaves us right where we’ve always beenpraying for rain. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23