When we consider whether creatures live on other planets, the first question is always the same: Is there water? In poor countries, people fight and die over it. In America, we too often take water for granted. Early Texans knew better and jealously conserved water. We should be reminded of their frugality and wisdom when the Legislature convenes next year with water management near the top of the agenda.
Lawmakers will need courage to take politically perilous steps. They need to do away with the archaic Rule of Capture that gives ownership of groundwater to those who own the property above. This will mean taking away valuable water rights many powerful landowners consider sacrosanct. Legislators need to separate the business and conservation duties currently assigned to river authorities that serve industry more than citizens. Finally, they need to make sure water treatment addresses all of the chemicals in our water.
Accomplishing all this is plausible thanks to the sunset review process. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Water Development Board, and the Soil and Water Conservation Board all will be under the microscope in 2011. These reviews give the Legislature an opportunity to refocus the agencies on providing clean water to all Texans—instead of acting as servants to powerful, wasteful interests.
The Water Development Board desperately needs rehab as it prepares to finalize the State Water Plan by January 2012. The plan is intended to make sure we have enough water for the next 50 years. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources is taking a close look at the draft plan. Sadly, it’s looking for misguided savings by cutting water conservation programs. The committee’s machinations provide a preview of the 82nd legislative session: Lawmakers will likely cut regulations and conservation programs under the guise of balancing the budget.
Luckily, President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has already taken some dramatic steps to protect Texas’ natural resources. Savvy lawmakers can, and should, tell lobbyists that now is the time to compromise, or the feds will impose even more severe restrictions. History teaches us that such threats are often the only way to get the job done.
Early Texans cherished every drop of water they could capture, and many fought and died for it on the Great Plains. Perhaps we can muster half as much passion.