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AQUIFER P’ER POLITICAL Department of Dry Holes illustration by Mike Krone Te l Boone Pickens wrung a fortune from his oil business. His green-energy boosterism has earned him boundless publicity and goodwill. But the Texas businessman’s superambitious water venturelittle known outside Texashas thus far paid few dividends. No one seems particularly taken with the idea of paying the billionaire oceans of cash to pump and pipe water from his base of operations in the northern Texas Panhandle to thirsty Dallas or San Antonio. In September, Pickens’ Mesa Water quietly announced the indefinite suspension of its pipeline project. Amid the media hubbub over Pickens’ plan to wean America one seemed to notice Pickens’ pipeline hiatus. No one, that is, except for his Panhandle neighbors, including the Canadian objected to sending precious groundwater out of the region. In January, CRMWA pounced on Pickens’ retreat, asking the state for at least $75 million to help it buy virtually all of Mesa’s water rights, at least 200,000 acres’ worth. CRMWA is the largest holder of water rights in the state and the primary supplier of water to cities in that part of the state, including Amarillo and Lubbock. The agency is also a longtime Mesa competitor; for years the two have been racing for control of the region’s groundwater, primarily in Roberts County, the center of Pickens’ water empire. CRMWA says it needs the water to hedge against shortfalls, and to lock up limited supplies before someone else does. “We don’t know where things are going with climate change or whatever,” says Kent Satterwhite, CRMWA’s general manager. “This water is available now, and it won’t be in the future?’ A convergence of factors has driven CRMWA into Pickens’ parlor. Drought has virtually dried up Lake Meredith, CRMWA’s only supply of surface water, and recent tests show that the Ogallala Aquifer is significantly slower to recharge than had been thought. Meanwhile, the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District is imposing pumping limits in an attempt to preserve at least 50 percent of the Ogallala for 50 years. “Who knows in 50 years what’s going to be left or what’s going to be accessible? It’s certainly in [CRMWAs] best interest to get as much as possible says Laura Marbury, a water analyst with Environmental Defense. “The core issue is, should the state’s money be used to pay for that?” Marbury argues that while it’s better to keep the water in the region than to pipe it at great expense halfway across the state, the state shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing a CRMWA-Mesa deal while cheaper options, such as conservation, have yet to be fully explored. At the same time, Marbury calls the potential deal “a reality check” for privatized water schemes that involve long-distance transfers. “The economics are going to have to add up,” she says. For Mesa’s part, its lawyer Robert Stillwell says the company is uncertain whether CRMWA, which has yet to broach negotiations directly, is “legitimately and competitively interested” in buying Mesa’s rights. Forrest Wilder More Monkey Business BOARD OF EDUCATION RESISTS EVOLUTION In early January, social conservatives on the State Board of Education once again took up their crusade against teaching evolution in Texas schools. At issue this time around are new standards that will guide the content of science textbooks and curricula used in Texas classrooms. And it’s not just a Texas issue. Because the state is one of the country’s biggest buyers of textbooks, the standards set in Texas will likely be exported to other states. Christian conservativesa collection of lawyers, insurance and real estate salesmen, a community newspaper owner and a dentist who continue to insist that the world’s evolutionary 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 6, 2009