Texas Water Fights – Round Two

In the last Texas legislative session, legislators proposed a California-style scheme of massive water transfers around the state.  FARFA played a key role in defeating the proposed bill, but the issue is far from dead.  Legislators who see nothing wrong in using the power of the government to take water and land away from rural areas to promote unrestrained urban growth — at the expense of the children and grandchildren of both rural and urban areas — are already looking ahead to the 2017 legislative session.

On February 2, 2016, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing about water marketing. Click here for FARFA’s post-hearing press release.

Out of the dozen invited witnesses, not a single one represented agricultural interests.

cracked land and green lawn-1

FARFA’s executive director, Judith McGeary, submitted written testimony and testified briefly during the public testimony portion of the hearing.

During the hearing, Representative Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) repeatedly claimed that the current system wasn’t working because some areas and landowners would not agree to sell their water for export.  Apparently, Rep. Larson wants to ignore the fundamental basis of a free market: a willing buyer and seller. 

If someone does not wish to sell their water rights, but wishes to preserve that water for their own use and for those that come after them, that’s their right.  The language of water “marketing” is being used to disguise the use of government power to pick winners and losers – with small rural populations and farmers who lack political power being the most likely losers.

As Judith McGeary stated in her oral testimony, FARFA generally favors market solutions.  Much of our work involves removing or preventing unnecessary regulatory burdens, so that farmers can produce the food that consumers want at a lower cost.

However, while market solutions work very well for decisions that impact the next decade or so, a pure economic analysis will invariably undervalue a vital resource such as water over the long-term.

As explained in FARFA’s written testimony:

Based on market principles, it’s reasonable for someone to pay $1.34 now to use, and often waste, water that will be worth $1 million to our great grandchildren. This makes economic sense because $1.34 invested at a compound interest rate of 7% would be worth $1 million in 200 years from now.

This is simply the way the economy values things: What is something in the future worth ‘today’ – not what it will be worth in the future.  Is this really a moral or ethical way to value our children and their children’s children?

 

One of the landowners who testified shared these thoughts after the hearing:

I know lots of people who have to spend every penny that’s in their pocket. For me, having been given the opportunity to be the steward of this beautiful place, I feel like the groundwater is part of that beauty, and I want to preserve that, not plunder it. This isn’t the kind of treasure you spend, it’s the kind you care for and it blesses you.

I can’t help but think that if the groundwater goes down significantly, then the trees and grasses, the wildflowers and the animals I see every day and enjoy so much would suffer and maybe die off. I just don’t want that to happen on my watch.

In that hearing yesterday, we heard from some groundwater conservation district managers who are clearly doing what they can to be good stewards of the resource, and sharing what could be shared without detriment. If I thought that POSGCD (Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District) was doing that, I would not resist. But I’ve investigated them, their rules, and their rationales. They have created a framework that is designed purely for plunder.

— Colleen Waring

Stay tuned for more information — there will be several more legislative hearings in the coming months, and a lot of work to do to be ready for the 2017 legislative session!