Monday, March 1, 2010

Good News and Bad News in the Water Wars

As a once-stolid Republican and still something of a "crunchy con" (with apologies to Rod Dreher), I frequently find myself shaking my head at what is popularly considered a "conservative" viewpoint in this neck of the woods. In my day, conservatives (no capital C, thank you) were those who thought we should act prudently and spend carefully, and preserve values important to at least some of our ancestors: family, thrift, wise land use, pastoral life, kindness and caring, fiscal responsibility--that sort of old-fashioned stuff.

But over the last three centuries, the occupants of this part of north America, and in particular this part of north Texas, seem to have lost sight of the common good, preferring to spend with abandon on huge cars, big roads, enormous houses, and to treat water as if it was ours by right, no matter where we had to get it, and no matter from whom we took it. And as valuable as drinking water seems to be, Big Bidness and Big Agriculture in Texas seem to think it's also their divine right to dump anything they want to in the waterways.

According to the U. S. Drought Monitor, Texas is now drought-free for the first time in three years, and you just know that, come summer, the sprinkler systems will be drenching lawns all over the area until somebody points out to over-users that the situation is not exactly stable, and that "global weirding" (I will be forever grateful to Thomas Friedman for that one) has been known to offer up everything from tinder-dry amber waves of grain to gushing flood waters to Katrina-sized hurricanes--all within a very few years. So getting happy and frolicking in the sprinkler is probably not a very prudent way to proceed.

My own innate, old-fashioned (antique?) conservatism thus causes me to be grateful to the Texas Supreme Court's ruling that no, Dallas cannot flood 25,000 acres of land in east Texas to build yet another reservoir just so neighbors can let water run off their over-fertilized overly-verdant lawns into the streets all summer. Instead, the area will become a wildlife preserve--one I can't wait to visit once the planners get the land bought and the titles secured. It's good to know that Texas can exhibit the same kind of sense that California did in regard to the Lower Owens River Project, which has resulted in reviving the Owens River where I was born. (Well, not in the river itself, although the bulrushes in the opening photo might be a good place to look for baby Hebrew prophets.)

After having sat through I don't know how many commercials during the Olympics, urging us to drill and suck and grind and process more and more fossil fuels, it was deliciously pleasant to find out that there is some real conserving going on after all.

Most news these days is crammed with justifiable ire over the fiscal debt we're leaving our grandchildren, but the loudest voices say little about the environmental debt we're handing down to them. It might be possible for future generations to co-operate and grow food and co-exist if they run out of money, but if we pollute the air so badly that they can't breath it, disturb the climate so severely that weather patterns are seriously altered, or use up so much water that they can't sustain crops, we will hardly be remembered fondly.

While looking for photos to illustrate this post, I ran across a notice about Texas Water Day--held on February 9-10 in Washington, D. C. (somehow I missed it). The announcement was enough to cause a hefty smirk to emerge on my naturally skeptical face. It thanks prospective attendees for supporting Water For Texas, because "Clean, adequate, and affordable water protects public health, supports economic prosperity, and ensures a robust environment. Texas’ stewardship of this precious resource is unparalleled. Help us celebrate our successes and plan for the challenges ahead." Stewardship is hard to demonstrate if the answer to Texas's water problems is to mess with the environment and just build another damned dam. Pardon me if I smell a lobbyist. These folks stayed at the Liaison Hotel for $269 a night and spent part of their stay meeting with the Texas Congressional delegation. Hmmm.

I do wonder how much of that conversation centered on the prospects of a big new reservoir, but I suppose that next year's Texas Water Day might include some discussion, at least, about the necessity for expressing some of our vaunted conservative values through water thrift. I am somewhat reassured by the Texas Water Matters website, which seems to be taking a sane approach to the whole matter. Were we to manage our consumption better, we would prevent the necessity for future reservoirs in the area, according to the data presented on the TWM page for Region C, in which the Dallas/Fort Worth area lies.

Stock tip of the day: companies that make affordable rain barrels seem like a good investment.

But just as I was beginning to relax a bit about the water wars, today's New York Times includes a story about rulings that restrict the reach of the Clean Water Act and have thus resulted in pollution without prosecution in numerous cases over the last four years.

The problem seems to be with the Act's inclusion only of "navigable waters," which is open to a wide range of interpretation--even though, as the Times article points out, 117 million Americans obtain their drinking water from vulnerable sources.

This kind of short-brained thinking is going to cost our descendants far more than the various dollar amounts being tossed around in deficit discussions. The potential for future water deficits and/or polluted water sources seems to be far more threatening from where I sit, even with rain pouring down outside my window for the umteenth time this winter.

It's enough to make a person grateful for not having grandchildren.

Photo notes: I took this picture near the junction of US 395 and the road to the old Reward mine north of Lone Pine, California, in December of 2003.


Dave Coulter said...

A fine and hopeful post.

I'm waiting for a third party to arise in this country to soak up all the disaffected moderates in the country.

I miss politicians like Chuck Percy and Paul Simon - senators from both sides of the aisle who seemed ethical and moderate.

Kcalpesh said...

Reflection in the photo is very nicely captured!

Pixellicious Photos