Saturday, March 14, 2015

Texas Water Wars

I live in Mason County, far in the western part of the Llano Uplift of the Edwards Plateau. Austin and San Antonio are two hours away. There are 2000 people in the town of Mason and 4000 in the entire county of about 1000 square miles, about 30 times the size of Manhattan Island. The skies are dark here and city people are astounded when they see the stars for the first time. We are more concerned with hitting deer with our cars than with city crime. It's a 60-year drive to Mason from the big cities.

Yesterday, March 13, I drove out to the Eckert James River Bat Cave, one of the largest bat nurseries in the world, and did some volunteer work. We were so far out in the wilderness it looked like a scene from a movie on Africa, including fording streams. There is no cell phone service out there.
Jame River, Mason County, TX
You would think a place this remote would be unconcerned with the events in the cities. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. When you talk about Texas one word always comes up when discussing the future - water. There isn't enough of it and there is a fight about it. As it it turns out, Mason has a very high quality aquifer - the Hickory. This water is superb for agriculture and vineyards are springing up all over the county. We are in the heart of the Texas wine country (a multi-billion dollar industry), but we rely on irrigation. Mason averages about 24 inches of rain a year, but I think 20 of those inches fall in three or four storms.

Now, Austin, two hours away, wants our water. Metropolitan Austin has in excess of 1 million people. Versus our 4000. The odds are not in our favor.

So, why the water wars? Two reasons - climbing population and drought.

Texas is one of the fastest growing states in the union. When I was born in 1957 there were about 4 million people in the state. Today, there are nearly 26 million. The farm we lived on is now a neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes surrounded by a large city. And, it keeps increasing.

More people, more demands for water.

At the same time, we have been experiencing drought for years. Depending on the region and the source of information, the drought has been going for anywhere from 5 to 15 years. I can personally attest to how rivers that used to flow with adequate water are now completely dry - and have been for several years.

On top of this is a cause so many people don't want to acknowledge - climate change. Drought in this region is simply something you learn to deal with. But, they are getting more frequent and more severe because of climate change. I find it interesting how people will get all riled up about the water wars and, at the same time, deny that climate change is making the situation worse. Here is a perfect example of a community not far from where I live:

The Southwestern Water Wars: How Drought Is Producing Tensions in Texas
 If you want to solve the problem, you have to first understand what the cause is. It's an uphill fight.

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