3601 S. Congress off E. Alpine Penn Field under the water tower check our site for monthly calendar i i 1 it sputa Nava International Headquarters Come Visit us for LUNCH! In addition to our organic coffee, pizzas, empanadas, pastries and pies, we now prepare made to order sandwiches, salads, and even black bean gazpacho. the TCEQ for rights to 850,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River basin. “I think it’s fair to say certain applicants looked at how much water was available and then filed applications for that amount,” says the National Wildlife Federation’s Hess. Still, he says, HB 3 is a necessary first step toward settling disputes over environmental flows that have gone on for decades. While HB 3 sailed out of the House with almost no opposition, Waco Republican Sen. Kip Averitt, chair of the Natural Resources Committee, has a different agenda in the Senate. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tapped Averitt to carry an omnibus water bill that includes the reservoirs designations. Most were recommended by the 2007 state water plan to meet urban water demands. In addition to the consensus environmental flows and conservation components, Averitt has appended language to his SB 3 that designates 19 “unique” reservoir sites in the state. Environmentalists like the Sierra Club’s Kramer express frustration at “the idea we could only gain progress on [water issues] by swallowing the poison pill of reservoir designation.” Local communities fiercely oppose many of the dams, especially those proposed for rural Northeast Texas. Residents of the Sulfur River basin, where the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir would flood 62,000 acres, including at least 36,000 acres of highquality bottomland hardwood forest, have been particularly vehement against the plan. “All these additional lakes are nothing … but an economic development scheme put together to take land away from private property owners and put longtime Texas families off of their places that they’ve lived just so folks in the big engineering firms and the big water utilities can make more money,” Max Shumake, a rancher and president of the Sulfur River Oversight Society, told Averitt’s committee in March. \(Tellingly, the Marvin Nichols Reservoir is named after a past principal of engineering Dewhurst has cautioned people not to “overreact” to the reservoirs. While the Lite Gov. insists he’s sensitive to private property rights, he is disturbed that Northeast Texas rivers and tributaries wind up in Louisiana. “I’ve got a lot of friends in Louisiana, but let’s grab that water, let’s use that water for our deserving cities, and then on the reuse we can flow it back or something,” he said at a February 22 conference announcing the omnibus bill. Averitt has defended the designated sites as but a small step in a long process. “The designation is merely a procedure to keep state agencies and local governments from impeding the [reservoir] permitting process,” Averitt told the Natural Resources Committee. He cited as an example the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s declaration last year of a 25,000-acre refuge for birds and other wildlife, including the endangered bald eagle, at the site of the proposed Lake Fastrill on the upper Neches River. In that case, he said, the federal government decided it wanted to install a “teeny-tiny wildlife refuge” without regard to Texas’ water needs. Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Tyler Republican and vocal critic of the plan, has called the reservoir designation “almost TransTexas Corridor, round II,” because of the impacts on property owners. “It’s a perfect example of why people don’t trust government,” Eltife told Averitt in March. On March 27, the Senate unanimously passed SB 3 after Averitt promised Eltife that he would hold hearings on legislation to protect property owners. Now the main action moves to the House with Puente’s natural resources committee taking center stage. Puente told the Observer he plans on giving both proand anti-reservoir legislation an airing soon, but that he is not against the idea of reservoir designation. The 19 proposed reservoirs are a continuation of a long Texas tradition of ambitious water exploits dating back decades. Today the state has over 200 man-made lakes larger than 5,000 acres. Critics charge that there are few areas left suitable for damming. In fact, conservationists want to wean Texas away from reservoir-building altogether. ” [W] e don’t need another round because we built too many [reservoirs] the last round,” says Janice Bezanson, executive director of the Texas Committee on Natural Resources. “We overdid it.” Bezanson and others point to surplus water sitting in some reservoirs around the state as one source for thirsty cities. Then there are efficiency and conservation, which some cities have already implemented. “It’s useful to remember that cities like San Antonio and Los Angeles have managed to use the same amount of water for a couple of decades while their population has grown over 2 percent a year during that same time period,” says Chris Brown, a water conservation consultant in San Antonio. The National Wildlife Federation found that 1 million acre-feet could be produced in annual savings by 2060 if the whole state followed San Antonio’s lead. That’s about the same yield as building the 14 reservoirs recommended in the state water plan. 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 6, 2007
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