by Mike Mecke
Well, that time of the year is here again – hot, dry summertime in Texas. Adding interest to this picture is a serious drought in several regions of Texas. Virtually every part of the state as viewed on the Palmer Drought Index shows rainfall shortages, but central and south Texas are by far the hardest hit.
Cities and water utilities have started water use restrictions and counties are enforcing burn bans. Water planners increase their push for “new” water resources and check out supposed surpluses elsewhere. No river, lake or aquifer is left out of these searches. No river bottom forestland or irrigated region escapes review, study and possibly planning. Computers know no boundaries!
Water resource planning becomes a classic case of the “have-nots” hankering for the water of the “haves.” In most cases across Texas, that means trying to figure out how to get the water from irrigated agriculture or sparsely populated counties with good groundwater or a lake or river. And, man, have we gotten good at that! Immense growth often has and is still occurring in our driest regions. Think L.A., Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, etc. In many rapidly growing areas or in cities exploding at the seams – developers and builders entice their favorite politicians into getting them water, no matter what the cost in dollars, environmental concerns or losses to Texas agriculture. All in the name of “All Growth is Good!” and “We must either keep growing or die!” No thought as to what may be lost forever in these mercenary transactions or whose ox is gored.
Some more enlightened utilities and political leaders are beginning to realize that Texas must grow smart – not just fast. Texas counties, long weak on any ability to properly manage and plan growth, are beginning to band together to get the attention of a largely urban Texas legislature. Planning commissions and regional water planning groups now have some rural and environmental representation considering the total picture and providing some protection to rural interests and concerns. Someone must speak up for the small percentage of Texans actively involved in agriculture and for rivers and wildlife which often have no voice at the bargaining tables. Foreign food is becoming an option.
It is in everyone’s best interest to maintain healthy, somewhat normal flows in our Texas creeks and rivers. The rivers with their lush green riparian vegetation are critical not only for quality livestock grazing, but wildlife habitat. Fish and other vital aquatic life are found in river waters. Ever try hunting along a dried up, parched river bed or fishing with your kids in it? No bueno!
Then, another major part of the picture is our rivers providing timely amounts and quality of fresh waters to our beautiful and economically valuable bays and estuaries. As go our creek and river flows, so goes our Gulf of Mexico and the billions of dollars in recreational and economic income produced for the benefit of all Texans. Creeks and rivers with ample, clean waters are an economic necessity to small towns and cities across the state for drinking water, tourism and other aspects of their economy. A healthy Gulf is a whole lot more than the tremendous Texas seafood industry. Consider recreation, tourism and a whole lot more – now consider that the Gulf is going to be a major source of drinking water for several Texas towns and cities in the future through desalinization. So, keeping it healthy and full of life is important to all of us clear up to Amarillo, Dallas or El Paso.
Ecological, geological and range management studies have shown conclusively that the stewardship of our farms and ranches can drastically affect not only the quality of the water infiltrating into aquifers or flowing into rivers, but also has the ability to greatly increase the amount of water available to urban or downstream users. This is a win-win for everyone from increased ag income to reduced urban water costs. The healthier farmland and rangelands or riparian areas produce more income for our ever stressed agricultural community and this translates into a healthier Texas economy. It is common for landowners to know what is needed to better manage their irrigated farms, watersheds or catchments, but not to have the economic resources required for often very expensive practices. It is clearly in the interest of urban and rural residents to jointly encourage and promote the research or even applied management needed to wisely manage and treat rural watersheds. More rainfall in = more water out!
Dr. Thad Box, a prophetic Texas rangeman, once stated to the effect of “…the most valuable product of rangelands will someday be pure water!” That time is now! So ideally, rangelands should be managed not only to provide livestock forage, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities, but perhaps most of all, to produce sufficient quantities of clean water throughout watersheds (catchments). This is the water which maintains creek and river flows and recharges aquifers. Often, the management is complimentary. If rangelands do not receive good land stewardship they soon lose some of the beneficial watershed characteristics so desired by hydrologists……and needed by livestock and wildlife.
These watersheds and water resources are found largely in our rural regions, but remember, water markets, much of the needed funding and the votes are in the cities! So, we all need each other and we must cooperate as friends, neighbors and fellow Texans in order to achieve many of our goals. As any good Texas farmer or rancher can tell you – seldom does anything come easily or automatically in agriculture!
Remember – Water is Life! Or Agua es Vida!