Page 11


‘*1/4,$.04P’0+:’,W1.gti tiV:Pr mm tv :1 4;:g&Viia -w*KIP Dry creek bed in West Texas. than they can recharge. Conservation, broadly defined, is paid forif it’s going to be paid for at allby hunters and fisherpersons and, sweetly enough, birders, all of whose activities rely on healthy aquatic environments. Tiny minorities of AfricanAmericans and Hispanics hunt or fish African-Americans and Hispanics combined is most of us, and growing. If someone doesn’t teach their kids to advocate for the natural world, then the natural world is kind of screwed, and water with it. It’s not in Water in Texas’ field-guide nature to editorialize overmuch on solutions to these problems, but given the pressing need and the largely invisible political will to address them, the book sounds almost clarion in its communication of context. Sansom starts at the molecular level and expands from there, through descriptions of Texas’ major watersheds to the over-engineered Gulf shores, from the bureaucracy of regional water-planning groups and groundwater districts to a regulatory tangle of local, state and federal agencies, from the drought proposals for another 15 reservoirs around the state to desalination plant prospects to municipal wastewater reuse. If Water in Texas isn’t designed to provide clear answers, it goes a long way towards clarifying the questions. For a different but not divergent view, expressed almost exclusively in statistical presentations and maps, there’s the Texas Water Atlas, by Texas State geographers Lawrence E. Estaville and Richard A. Earl \(and prefaced by Sansom, whose River Systems Institute sponsors the River Books series to which the atlas little color-coded Texases, are laid out monthly precipitation charts, lines of potential evapotranspiration \(measured fers, shoreline erosion study areas, flash floods per county, historical hurricane paths, public water supply systems, groundwater overdraft subsidence areas, per capita water-use gradations, USGS gauging stations, concentrated animal feeding operations, landfills, fish kills commercial aquariums for godssake, demand projections, interbasin water transfers, and dozens of other ways of looking at water in Texas, including the hurricane-heavy text of a “Texas Water Timeline” that kicks things off 65 million years ago. About the only thing it doesn’t tell you is where the fish are biting. Interbasin water transfers are especially interesting, and there’s a big one likely to require legislative attention this session: a Lower Colorado River Authority plan to sell a bunch of lower Colorado River water to San Antonio. LCRA has rights to the water, but if it’s taken 9,14 and sent to San Antonio, that amount won’t be there when the river wends down closer to Wharton, where it’s relied on by rice farmers and the economies that rely on them. And none of this even considers “environmental” flows: leaving enough water in the river that it looks and feels and sounds and acts like what we like to think of as a river, in part so that it can feed the estuary waters along Matagorda Bay, where we’ve only just begun to calculate the biological and human wealth that fresh water generates. If there’s an ultimate takeaway from these two titles \(notable in the Texas Water Atlas the undervalued importance of environmental flow. Environmental flow is something you can swim in, a place a kid can fish, a good place to spend a day in a canoe. Rivers may carry less than 3 percent of the world’s water at any given time, but to divert them dry would do more than create muddy low spots in the landscape for four-wheelers to tear up. It would interrupt the life cycle and kill the life source of far more than fountain darters. If demand for water increases \(as plies of serviceable water don’t increase along with it \(as without intervention we know itthe shower, the bass, the skinny dipwill change. Noticeably, and for the worse. Jacob’s Welllike San Marcos Spring, a “perpetual” artesian spring, which feeds Cypress Creek down the road in Wimberleytemporarily stopped flowing in the summer of 2000, and again last October. Jacob’s Well draws off the Trinity Aquifer, which abuts the Edwards, from which the San Marcos flows. Locals blamed too much pumping and too little rainfall. The statewide forecast calls for more of all of that. Texas needs to plan for it. That means, sooner or later, legislators are going to have to take the lead. They could hardly do better than to start by taking a glass-bottom boat out on Spring Lake, and then reading these two books. 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 23, 2009