Sulphur River rises in northeast Texas and flows eastward through some of the last and best hardwood bottomland in the state
communities - Cuthand, Naples, Omaha, Dalby Springs. All support, and are supported by, farming, logging, and the broader timber industry
The first Anglo settlers trickled into the region in 1820s and began displacing the Kickapoo
120 miles west, on the semi-arid Blackland Prairie, Dallas-area business interests and water developers see in the verdant Sulphur watershed the essence of unlimited urban and suburban prosperity.
They want Sulphur River water "to ensure continued economic growth" and claim that their region's economic contribution to the state gives them a right to it. If they prevail, 67,000 acres of prime hardwood bottomland - all privately owned - will be condemned, taken under eminent domain, and drowned beneath a reservoir that will supply water to a growing Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Then, to satisfy environmental requirements, additional land - as much as 140,000 acres - will be condemned and set aside to mitigate the loss of high-quality wildlife habitat.
(unlikely alliances) Northeast Texas farmers, environmentalists, hunters, loggers, timber companies, and local real estate agents fighting to protect their independence from outside power.
Murray Rothbard - "A longer-run solution [to water-use conflicts], of course, is to privatize the entire system of water and water rights in this country . If all resources are privatized, they will be allocated to the most important uses by means of a free price system, as the bidders able to satisfy the consumer demands in the most efficient ways are able to outcompete less able bidders for these resources."
aren't paying anywhere near true market value [for water]
cost an estimated $3.3 billion. A 2002 study by the Texas State Forest Service estimated that construction of Marvin Nichols Reservoir would cost the northeast Texas economy 400-1,300 jobs and $87-$275 million annually.
pro-reservoir senator said, "Like it or not, these millions of people are coming. It's our responsibility to make sure the needed water is there." [in 2007 Senate Committee on Natural Resources]
Although the properties have not yet been formally condemned, they cannot be used in any way that could interfere with future reservoir construction.
Landowners and environmentalists argue that needs can be readily met with existing reservoirs and through increased conservation and improved technology.
The Texas Observer, Forrest Wilder - "Theress big money in building reservoirs, but not so much in fixing leaky pipes"
push for giant engineering projects that require eminent domain [just what P.A. Yeomans warned against]
how will the projected benefits be distributed - put another way, how will the natural wealth be redistributed?
Is this not simply a transfer of vast human and natural capital from one region to another?
Besides the obvious disruptions, a growth-at-all-costs ideology that treats land, water, and communities as nothing but raw material inflicts insidious damage to the foundations of constitutionalism.
Drawing on Locke and Jefferson, (conservative thinker Richard) Weaver called widely distributed ownership of small property the most effective barrier against an encroaching state and predatory capitalism.
Roger Scruton argues that love and community arise from a sense of permanence. But if no place is safe from plunder, then no place can be safely loved. Over time, nihilism will pervade.
Gary and Dolores Cheatwood of Cuthand, in Red River County own 600 acres, "We've been in this fight for about 10 years, and I expect my son and grandkids will take up the fight too."
Andrew Sansom, Executive Director of the Meadows Institute for Water and the Environment at Texas State University-San Marcos, writes in In Water for Texas: An Introduction, "We must find a way to move water westward in Texas. This is inevitable, but, again, the prospect of interbasin transfer is one that is not universally accepted.
Notes from Comments
July 31, 2013 at 12:28 am
I once ran the economic research team for the City of Dallas. I did a back of the envelope calculation that the annual rain that falls in the city limits was about the same volume of water that is produced by our water utility.
If we captured all that it might mean nothing left for the wild places in the city limits and certainly nothing to drain down the Trinity to the Gulf.
July 31, 2013 at 9:53 am
I had predicted this about 20 years ago - when Texas environmentalists (back when Democrats like Governor Ann Richards could be elected to statewide office) were supporting growth restrictions that were reflective of Texas' long-term water supply problems - and a wave of Republican politicians were elected, sweeping out most of the old Democratic politicians. At the time those Sulfur River farmers, along with Hill Country ranchers and High Plains cotton farmers and Coastal Plains rice farmers all threw their support behind candidates backed by Austin and Houston and Dallas and San Antonio real-estate developers who worked to wipe away any of those growth restrictions.
LCRA has now denied water to the rice farmers for two straight years because of the drought, for example. A few years back the courts gave Lubbock primacy over established agricultural surface water rights.
The Ogalalla in the panhandle is dropping lower and lower. Levels in the Edwards have been protected mainly by lawsuits by the Sierra Club to protect endangered species, without which pumping by San Antonio would have dried up springs over a 100 mile swath and eliminated summer flows in hundreds of streams and rivers. Pumping of the Gulf Coast and the Rio Grande Aquifers have over time degraded the water quality due to increased salinity. The state environmental agency has had a spike in the last 2 years in applications for direct re-use of treated effluent - basically towns and cities all over the state are running a pipe directly from their wastewater treatment plant to their water treatment plant, and the water residents flushed down the toilet a week before will be flowing from their taps this week, without ever having flowed in a stream or filled a reservoir in-between.
the agricultural interests, over the long haul, will be screwed. They had a window of opportunity in the 80's to align themselves with environmentalists to do something meaningful, but they sided with the politicians who wanted to keep the growth pedal pushed to the floor, resource limitations be damned. From 1990 to today the state has added 9 million residents - over a 50% population growth. Those residents are voters - and want their water. They can buy rice from Louisiana, cotton garments and sheets from Pakistan, produce from Mexico. For many of Texas' newest residents, the greenness of the golf course their residential development borders is far more important than the future of farming in the state.
Cascade Joe says:
July 31, 2013 at 9:57 am
Sometime back, when Dallas was looking to bury family farmland for a reservoir, one farmer noted that his farm was to be destroyed so that people in Plano could water their sidewalks.
He was referring to the acres of green grass around homes with automatic sprinkler systems needed to keep them green. On any Texas summer evening, you could drive down residential streets and see water streaming over the sidewalks due to off-kilter sprinkler heads or sprinkler radii that extended past the rectangular lawns and plantings.
Before the big reservoirs, when I lived there, summer brought giant cracks in the ground. Now, summer brings watered sidewalks.
July 31, 2013 at 1:09 pm
I have lived in Dallas TX since 1995. I have never seen such a waste of water in my life
1) Green lawns where landscape pebbles would do
2) Everyday watering for the grass when once a week would do
3) Growing non native species
4) Watering in December and January when the hedges are covered in icicles ,a lovely holiday effect but it is wasted water
5) over watering on cold days which leads to street ice forming and accidents
July 31, 2013 at 2:51 pm
tremendous water resources are required by private oil and gas developers to frac the shale surrounding ftworth.
Steve in Colorado says:
August 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm
Thanks for the article. I live in Colorado where water is an even bigger issue. There is a real culture of subsidized water so suburbanites can have lush bluegrass lawns in an arid state.
Politics in Colorado is mildly less raw than Texas where they don't have to pretend to any kind of fairness. Here it is a bit more polite and the ugly decisions are made behind closed doors.
I happen to be fighting a dam right now. It's being forced on my rural community and we've been fighting 3 years. We keep winning and they just come back another way. I'm lucky enough to be right at the proposed base of the dam. A 200 foot high wall will be built a few hundred yards from my house and the base of it will be higher than my house. I can't sell since my property has lost most of its value and I won't even be condemned since it is upstream of me. It has been a real education in how power works.
August 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm
There is no everyday watering in the Dallas area. Most of the cities restrict it to one day a week, a few burbs still allow 2 days a week watering. As for winter watering the worst offender is the city, very few homeowners do that.
Russell Seitz says:
August 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm
As a river pilot downstream of the Sulfur once remarked, whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.
The editors might ask conservative water policy and law expert Tracy Mehan to weigh in on the latest brawl.