June 24, 2015
Unfortunately, a good rain washes away more than the drought; it washes away much of man’s interest in providing for the next one, and it washes the supports from under those who know that another dry cycle is coming and who urge their fellows to make ready for it.
— “More Water for Texas” by Walter Prescott Webb (1954)
I started my week talking to a group of teachers who were taking a little time out of their hard-earned summer break to learn about water at the 10th Annual Groundwater to the Gulf Summer Institute.
They were spending four days learning about the science of water so I decided to talk to them about the history and politics of water.
Those issues have been fresh on my mind both because of the historic rains of late as well as some heated debate we had at the very end of the legislative session.
Water — how we use it, share it, own it, store it, treat it, and pay for it — is at the heart of some of our state’s greatest challenges. And that remains true even now that our reservoirs are filling up and only a tiny portion of the state is still considered “abnormally dry.”
But I’d caution against getting too crazy with the lawn sprinklers just yet. Even during the 1950s decade-long drought of record, there were periods of significant rainfall.
While the recent rain has restored much-needed water to our lakes, it hasn’t ended the “hydrologic drought” that is the basis of our water supply planning. Ending that would require a sustained period of more normal rainfall and inflow to the lakes.
We’ve seen amazing results from the water conservation efforts in recent years. I hope we keep it up because praying to the heavens for a rain bomb isn’t exactly prudent public policy.
It’s Only Just Begun
Not surprisingly, debates on the Senate floor this session often split along partisan lines. But on Sunday, the night before Sine Die, we had a fascinating debate during which a member’s party didn’t matter.
It was all about water.
Specifically, it was about San Antonio’s desire to get water from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, how such efforts would be financed, and whether the people in between should have a say. Here we were, late in the session (about as late as you can get) and there was an amendment that had been placed on an unrelated bill in a conference committee.
I argued long and hard with both a Democratic and a Republican colleague from San Antonio (both wanted the amendment) that this wasn’t the way to make major state policy. For one reason, we need a broader discussion than this process allowed about how or whether local communities should be consulted if they will have pipelines passing through them. In this case, the last-minute amendment expressly cut Bastrop County and other affected areas out of the discussion. Some of my Republican colleagues along the pipeline route joined in and we won.
It was a moment of bipartisanship. It was an example of what the Senate once was and could be again.
But it was also an example of the water debates that are to come.