Texas Water: A Modern Proposal

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The largest sphere represents all of Earth's water, and its diameter is about 860 miles (the distance from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Topeka, Kansas). It would have a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3)). The sphere includes all the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, and rivers, as well as groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your dog, and your tomato plant. How much of the total water is fresh water, which people and many other life forms need to survive? The blue sphere over Kentucky represents the world's liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3 (10,633,450 km3), of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not accessible to humans. The diameter of this sphere is about 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers). Image from USGS public domain

The largest sphere represents all of Earth's water, and its diameter is about 860 miles. It would have a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3). The sphere includes all the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, and rivers, as well as groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your dog, and your tomato plant. How much of the total water is fresh water, which people and many other life forms need to survive? The blue sphere over Kentucky represents the world's liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3, of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not accessible to humans.

Hugh FitzsimonsAdmittedly I am not one to sit still and pay attention. But I surprised myself last week when I attended the Texas Agriculture Water Forum.

As a rancher in a drought my ox is in the ditch, and it is not filling up with water. So I sat there and listened patiently, trying to untangle what the politicians and experts were saying. I found myself searching for those golden moments of oratory that would part the waters and lead me though the labyrinth.

For six hours I listened to politicians, irrigators, and water experts do their level best to explain how we need to do more with less. Not only that, but we need to do more because growth is the only solution, and growth can only be had by getting more water. Their solutions for the most part consisted of using new technology and building water transfer infrastructure to give us more water. Through the use of advanced digital imaging and graphics, a farmer can monitor his crop from the coffee shop. Think of it, irrigating with impunity while eating a jelly donut.

This conference was headlined as a conservation seminar. And while there was significant emphasis on sustainability and water conservation, what I saw were fat cats with iPads looking and listening closely for the slightest hint of a rule change.  The emphasis was on how we need to somehow create more water. This is an interesting precept given the fact that there is the same amount of water on the planet today as when the big bang gave us birth.

The largest sphere represents all of Earth's water, and its diameter is about 860 miles (the distance from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Topeka, Kansas). It would have a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3)). The sphere includes all the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, and rivers, as well as groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your dog, and your tomato plant. How much of the total water is fresh water, which people and many other life forms need to survive? The blue sphere over Kentucky represents the world's liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3 (10,633,450 km3), of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not accessible to humans. The diameter of this sphere is about 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers). Image from USGS public domain

The largest sphere represents all of Earth’s water, and its diameter is about 860 miles. It would have a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3). The sphere includes all the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, and rivers, as well as groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your dog, and your tomato plant. How much of the total water is fresh water, which people and many other life forms need to survive? The blue sphere over Kentucky represents the world’s liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3, of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not accessible to humans. Image/caption from USGS, public domain.

The inception for this piece was inspired by a comment made by Daniel L. Krienke, a director of the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District. A serious man with a serious sense of humor, who has probably been involved in agriculture since before I took my first drink – of water. When asked by the moderator what it would take for his district to have a sustainable aquifer he responded:

“When the water levels are so low that we can’t afford to pump it, then we will have a sustainable aquifer.”

“Eureka!” I shouted, unable to contain myself. Finally, the promised land, the big rock candy mountain, and the fountain of youth all rolled into one. So with apologies to Johnathan Swift, a fellow Irishman who was much more eloquent than this one, I would like to offer my manifesto “Texas Water: A Modern Proposal.”

The bedrock of underground water law in Texas is the Rule of Capture, a law that is based on a 13th century English edict and has been reaffirmed by Texas courts time and again. Now a rule that is based on English Common Law may have worked when Texas irrigators first started to tap our aquifers, but today we are somewhere between a rock and a dry hole when it comes to water use law.

The straws are bigger and the glass is half full. And rather than have us eat our children as Mr. Swift suggested in “A Modest Proposal,” I think we should crank open the faucets, turn on the sprinklers for the Country Clubs, and pump all the frac water we can. After all, we are in a drought, and we need water. Then and only then would we not need to conserve water because there would not be any left; at last the final solution.

I say drill here, drill now, and pay whenever. We need to use up our water and do it before somebody says we can’t. You might be missing the opportunity of a lifetime by idly twiddling your thumbs and sitting still when you could go to your fence line and suck your neighbor’s water table dry to fill your reservoir with water so you can watch it evaporate. Think of the missed opportunities to pump millions of gallons into water theme parks and car washes. We need green lawns and clean cars, not green beans and water saving toilets.

Now is the time, Texans, as we approach our state’s most hallowed day. On March 2, 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos we took a stand for the Constitution of 1824 and booted the despot Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana back to Mexico. Stand tall Texas, protect and defend our sacred Rule of Capture.

Like those patriots in the peach orchard at Gonzales I say, “Come and take it.” Before somebody else does.

 

Hugh Fitzsimons is a rancher in Dimmit County. Hugh owns Thunderheart Bison and Native Nectar Guajillo Honey. He is also a director of the Wintergarden Groundwater Conservation District.

 

Related Stories on the Rivard Report:

A Wary Rancher’s Wellspring: Oil and Water February 2013

Water Security: Will Texas Leadership Finally Act? January 2013

Eagle Ford Forum II: Sustaining the Boom and Averting the Bust January 2013

Eagle Ford Heyday: Economic Boom Obscures Long-Term Issues December 2012

The Texas Lege: Do the Right Thing, Please January 2013

Higher Water Rates for a Sustainable Future October 2012

‘Old Man Water’: A Longtime Observer Surveys the San Antonio Landscape October 2012

 

4 thoughts on “Texas Water: A Modern Proposal

  1. Bravo Hugh! Finally, someone eloquently taking to task those fat cats who are siphoning off our shared inheritance. Use of water will continue to be restricted for the rest of us while big ag and big oil get to use whatever they want. When will re realize that the “law of capture” may make much sense for England’s rainy shires, but makes little sense to South Texas???

  2. Hugh

    How refreshing to have a South Texas rancher with a keen interest in public policy and the future sharing his candid views with our largely urban audience in San Antonio. We do share the same water resources. We are governed by the same state laws, and everyone, we hope, appreciates satire. Keep it coming. –RR

  3. I love the satire. Everytime I watch the news (especially a story on water conservation or a drought) there is a guy or gal out there still watering their lawns (one story taking place in Uvalde of all places) while the cameras are right in front of them. Really, you’re watering the lawn, and your area is suffering from a drought. Hilarious!

  4. Well done, Hugh. As owner of a dry land farm I understand the problem and have never irrigated. The farm isn’t on an aquifer. Gray water should be required for fracking and for watering lawns, and fresh water for such usage should be outlawed.

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