Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Investors Battle Neighbors In Texas Water Wars

Men's Journal:
They've been saying it in Texas since the first Anglo planters dug their crude canals for pecan trees: Whiskey is for drinkin'; water is for fightin'. Except that even then the canard rang hollow: Water is for stealing. In the 1860s, U.S. troops drove native tribes off their eons-old oasis, Comanche Springs, enabling settlers to transform the Chihuahuan Desert into a delta of produce farms. A compact was struck among the Panhandle's growers to share the water fairly among each other. But in Texas, "common interest" is happy talk for socialism and never stands the test of avarice.
In the 1950s, along came Clayton Williams, an oil and cow magnate who dug dozens of gas-fired wells on his ranch and drew all the water out of Comanche Springs. His neighbors, rightly outraged, sued in three courts – and lost to him each time in landmark trials. The courts said Williams owned every last drop he could suck from the caves beneath his soil, and tough luck for his fellow landsmen with shorter straws. That law, called "rule of capture," defines Texas' approach to problem solving. It honors the state's right to control its surface water, but grants absolute ownership of below-ground water to whoever owns the land above it. The owner of that water can largely do what he likes – hoard it, waste it, or sell it at profit – even if it bankrupts his next-door neighbor and tanks the ecology of his county.
Williams' win was great news for tycoons and oil extractors, exalting the claims of the big ranch owner over the greater good of his townsfolk. Sixty years later, when surface water is dying and Texas can't support the population it has, let alone the people still coming, it has emboldened a new cast of cutthroat investors, including Clayton Williams' son, Clayton Jr. Claytie, as he's called, is an oil-and-gas scion who could easily have been invented by Molly Ivins. In 1990, he ran for governor and was ahead by double digits in all the polls. Then he wisecracked that women being raped should "just relax and enjoy it."
Like his father, he's monopolized the springs in Pecos County, pumping 41 million gallons a day to water his cattle and telling a reporter, "It's my land, and I have the right... If I didn't pump water, [the land] wouldn't be worth anything."
In 2010, he decided to double down, making a deal with a utility company in Midland, Texas – his firm would build pipelines to send Pecos County water 100 miles away to that booming oil town. Shortly thereafter, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens struck a deal to pipe groundwater, for $103 million, to 11 cities, including Lubbock and Amarillo, replacing the depleted Lake Meredith. Like Williams, Pickens drew from a depleted source: the Ogallala Aquifer in West Texas, which sat below land he owned or to which he leased the water rights. One of the world's great underground bodies, it irrigates crops in eight states, brings drinking water to millions, and, for decades, was presumed to be boundless. But in Texas, the drain has been so rapacious that levels in the Ogallala have dipped hundreds of feet, bottoming out completely in shallow sections.
To stem some of the damage done by the rule of capture, and to protect the state's reserves from men like Williams, Texas created local groundwater boards to regulate sales to outside parties. In Williams' case, the system worked: His deal was voted down by the county board. Not so with Pickens and his Mesa Water holdings, which won local board approval to sell water to the 11 cities. Pickens made out grandly at the expense of the Ogallala, while hiking up future water costs for residents; groundwater is much more expensive than surface water, as it must be pumped farther and treated twice, not once. "It'll be on your water bill and mine," said Norman Wright, chairman of the Canadian River Water Authority, which struck the deal on behalf of the 11 municipalities and took out bonds to pay Pickens' price.
The whole article is fascinating.  The great migration of population to the desert southwest in the 20th and early 21st century was one of the dumbest things people could have ever done (although all the building in Dubai has to rank pretty damn high).  Now that we are cooking ourselves in our own emissions, those folks are going to have to pack up and leave because they don't have water to drink.  Then we'll see whether Texas can afford to exist without water AND without income taxes.  Also, Rick Perry is a stupid jackass.  I like this quote:
"I'm up at four in the morning seven days a week, trying to catch enough to keep my oyster plant going, while the governor's out braggin' about the 'Texas Miracle.' We don't need more people, 'less they're bringin' some fuckin' water. What we need's a real miracle: two months of rain."
We've got the water, but I sure don't want the people.

Update: Dow Chemical also battles for water in Texas:
When Dow Chemical, one of the largest manufacturers of chemicals and plastics in the world, announced a multibillion-dollar expansion on Texas’ Gulf Coast last summer, Gov. Rick Perry had yet another example to add to his list of explosive economic growth on Texas soil.
“Texas continues to attract companies looking for the best opportunity to expand or relocate because of our low taxes, smart regulations, fair courts and predictable workforce,” Perry said in an August statement on Dow’s expansion, for which the governor’s incentive fund had provided $1.5 million, on top of a $1 million grant the year before.
But this success story has been underscored by a tense struggle over water, which Dow needs to keep production afloat, and which is in short supply in Texas amid the state’s debilitating drought and its water users’ increasing thirst.
The manufacturing giant is by far the largest user of water from Texas’ Brazos River, which also supplies farmers, cities and other industries along its 900-mile stretch from northwest Texas to the Gulf Coast. Dow is also the river’s oldest user, giving the company priority over all others. And as the Brazos’ water supply diminishes, Dow’s claims to its flows have pitted it against farmers, cities, power plants and local water authorities.
Conservationists and wholesale water suppliers alike warn that in a booming state that’s been slow to address its long-term water needs, companies looking to relocate to Texas could see Dow’s experience and reconsider. They also say that companies in Texas could engage in expensive battles with agricultural and other water users, including fast-growing cities — and that the state is not prepared to accommodate all of its conflicting water demands.
Things are going to get really interesting in Texas.  Who needs planning and zoning when you don't even have water?

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