November 23, 2009
I recently needed to be in San Francisco on business. That’s out in California, a long way from Austin.
The morning of my meeting, I was walking through a hall looking for my room. And there, in front of one set of doors, was a sign that screamed “Texas Economic Development.”
Now, while I knew that wasn’t my meeting, I was positive that I needed to know who in San Francisco was talking about economic development in Texas. I was equally positive that those folks needed to meet me.
So, uninvited but feeling like I belonged, I just walked in. Several heads turned, and at first I didn’t recognize any of them. I’d barely finished proclaiming who I was when I saw my friend, the Texas Secretary of State, rise, say hello, and introduce me to the group.
Turns out she was leading a group of economic development leaders from several small Texas cities. They were meeting with consultants who look for corporate relocation sites.
Later that day, I went to the gym to as part of my continued effort to remain among Austin’s fittest. As I was finishing my workout, I saw a middle-aged dude wearing a shirt proclaiming we should “Keep Austin Weird.” (Judging from the lack of “Keep San Francisco Weird” T-shirts, I guess they’re not too worried about it out there.)
He told me he wasn’t from Austin. He’s from San Francisco via New York, but he just really likes Austin and loves the T-shirt.
While he and I were getting to know one another, another guy walked by wearing a T-shirt with the iconic University of Texas Longhorn on it. He wasn’t from Austin either. Another New Yorker. Just likes UT and Austin.
The obvious lesson, of course, is that our newest economic development growth industry is right in front of our eyes: T-shirts. It’s big.
Of all the odd trends I’ve seen in three years in the state Senate, the strangest might be that whenever people start talking about the water shortages that Texas faces state-wide, it seems to rain.
Just last week, there was:
Then on Friday, of course, it rained. All day.
But as football fans know, the Longhorns pouring it on against the Baylor Bears, sadly, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to win the national championship in January. There’s still work to be done.
By the same token, as great as the recent rain has been, the State of Texas still has a lot of work to do to prepare for the future.
This is a subject that’s been very important to me for a very long time. When I was Austin Mayor, we negotiated with the LCRA to secure a 50-year raw water supply for Austin.
More recently, as State Senator, I encouraged and prodded the city and the LCRA to resolve a number of water disputes that had been simmering for far too long a time. The result was an agreement that is expected to cover Austin’s raw water needs over the next 100 years.
Without question, Austin will – must – apply appropriate conservation measures and properly manage the raw water supply.
But I’m really proud that Austin’s in pretty good shape. Other growing cities may not be. The state’s population is projected to double in the next 50 years. But it isn’t like we’re going to get twice as much rain to keep up.
In fact, with the uncertainty that could come with a warming climate and long periods of drought, it’s possible that by 2060, twice as many people will be sharing even less water than we have available today.
So the question is, how will we deal with it? How will we make this finite resource go a lot further than it’s going today?
That question has become a lot more pressing in recent months. Our state’s water management plans are based on what we faced during the worst drought in recorded history – the seven-year drought in the 1950s.
Well, the drought we’ve endured over the last two years – the one that dropped Lake Travis so low over the summer – was actually drier and hotter than any two years of that 1950s drought.
In other words, the worst-case scenario in our current plans might not actually be the worst case we’ll face.
Now, no doubt, the rains over the last few weeks have helped a lot. Instead of an immediate screaming crisis, we’re back to dealing with the long-standing, simmering challenge we’ve known about for years. How we address it will help determine how Texans will live and how Texas will grow in coming generations.
But we know what’s coming. And we can either start getting ready for it now, or be threatened by it down the road.
There are a number of things that need to be on the agenda, particularly as we get ready for the next legislative session in 2011.
My friend Senator Kip Averitt, who hosted the water conference in Fort Worth, has talked about the need to fund the water plan that various regions have created (to learn more about that planning, preparation and funding effort, click here).
And I’m working on efforts to increase water conservation across Texas, particularly in urban areas.
There’s so much more we can do in Texas to manage our water supply prudently and conservatively. And I’ll be working hard in coming months to find ways that Central Texas and the rest of the state can double-down on water, making sure we’re using it responsibly even as we extend our supplies in the ways we need to.
This is an issue that affects all of us. Even though Austin has done well preparing for its future, we all need to be responsible, work together, and do everything we can to prepare for the economy we want and the people we know will be here.