Sunday, October 28, 2012

ogallala! ogallala! ogallala!

I have noticed, having lived here almost three months, that mention of the ogallala aquifer makes people very nervous. It is generally known that 1) the ogallala aquifer is what we rely on in times of drought and in other times, 2) it is running out so quickly that it may be totally gone in 25 years, and 3) in some places Texas landowners are digging wells and then having to redig them in a few years because the aquifer has gone down so fast. The result of this is that ordinary, sentient Texans are very nervous about the long-range chances for our children to live here. It cannot be replenished very easily, apparently. This is due to the nature of the soil and the nature of the various layers below it (the caliche) that prevent the water from getting back down there.

I learn this from reading about it. It's actually very scary.

To me there is a rather obvious solution that I'm confident would be politically difficult if not impossible. That is, make people pay for their use of water from the aquifer, and use that money to ensure that the water gets replenished. How do you ensure it? Well, if water from playas replenishes it, make more playas. If it requires research to figure out which water replenishes it the best, do the research. This would be paid for by people who need that groundwater so badly that they're willing to pay extra for it.

Texas is a huge consumer or depleter of this groundwater; specifically Texas cotton-growers and other ag folks who have apparently been considering our public heritage, our future, as their personal water tank to use and deplete. That may sound a little crude, but in fact, you can't expect them to just be prudent or careful about it, when there are no laws to prevent them from drawing what they can out of it. Public resource? So is the air, the roads, the government grasslands, etc. They are somewhat in the habit of taking things for granted. Farming requires taking what you can, what you have, what you can use, and making stuff you can sell. It doesn't require asking questions, or begging to pay more for a resource that you sorely need.

On the other hand, I'm sure farmers would understand if you said: this belongs to all of us. We can't deplete it at this rate. If you can raise, say, sunflowers, and conserve it, and still make money, you should do that, because we're going to charge you for taking away our future rights to live here. Etc.

In the process of raising children, and encouraging grown children to live here, I am coming to realize that nothing is more important than ensuring some kind of sustainability for them and future generations. Now I just got here, and folks were nice to us; they didn't tell us, though, that we could move in here but we might not have water in 25 years. Actually I suspect nobody really knows how long it will be before "the well dries up." And, as I've noticed, they've at least started doing something about it...In fact this article mentions how hard it is to get people to work together on an issue like this, and how hard it is to accept any limits at all. Government in particular is hostile to limits from above, and actually, in my mind, I'd already blamed those ferrocarrile guys, who I'd suspected had already let their friends start fracking, etc., and who probably were the first to open the door and let anyone have at any public resource. But the fact is, I don't know from anything. I've at least read a couple of articles, and I'm beginning to realize: people have noticed. Water is scarce. It's a place to start.

Friday, October 19, 2012

ballot of the republic

I looked at the ballot for the fifteenth precinct (?) of Lubbock and noticed a couple of salient factors, being a rank outsider and unaccustomed to Texas politics.

First, if it's a two-party system, the Libertarians are the second party, so that explains why moderate is a dirty word: it's about as far left as you can go. The Republican primaries I would guess settle most of these races, and that's why I don't hear much controversy over anything except maybe Obama and Romney. Obama is by far the only Democrat who has a chance to win anything on this ballot; there is one Democrat running for Senate from Texas but I'm not sure anyone takes him seriously. The Congressman has some Libertarian running against him but is otherwise unopposed.

So the education races, the judgeships and the ferrocarril still matter and I want to investigate them further, but I'm wondering, what happened to the Democrats? Did they just up and roll over? It gives Texas a kind of advantage, to have all these congressmen unopposed, they'll get what is known as seniority and bring such things as jobs and roads back to Texas. Guess I should be a Republican. Republican = the only thing.

Then my guess is, it's not really such a big deal counting the votes; there are probably a few close races here and there in the state but clearly none around here, and, one would guess that you'd only need pollwatchers when it was contested. Which could possibly be in the primaries, but probably not. It's an interesting cultural situation.

In Illinois they had trouble finding precinct captains and I almost voted for myself once. There was nobody on the ballot. But I did that in college once, in a university of about 40 000, and I won. I had to back out sheepishly and I felt really bad for the freshman council of the student government which then had to accept a no from a winner.

I'm wondering, how they elected LBJ. That was just 50 years ago, but I guess that's ancient history. The Democrats did what, fled? Packed up their tents? Reminds me of the mound people. They're almost completely gone. But I'll bet those Libertarians rake them in.

Watch out for those moderates...

Friday, October 12, 2012

water rights

I realize that I'm stepping square into a giant puddle here, but there is apparently a lot to say about water rights in general and developments in the Lubbock area.

First, I was wrong when I said, upon moving here, that I'd heard people referring to giant puddles at street corners as "playas." I had in fact thought I'd heard someone say that (the big puddle in my life is at Flint and 19th; however, I understood there to be one, also, at Quaker and 50th); but, as it turns out, they were probably not referring to the puddles in the streets per se, but rather, the dips that the city put in in places in order to catch and hold that water, and get it out of the way so that traffic could still function. Thus, you have low spots along 19th street out by the park, low spots in parks here and there throughout the city, and, if all goes well, water drains off into there, and stays there, until it either evaporates or seeps down into the ground.

The latter, however, apparently doesn't happen. It's red clay country, and the water table way below, the so-called Ogalalla reservoir, is what my friend called "not replenishable". Now I have a question about that: would replenishing it be impossible? Unlikely? or just Difficult? I don't know. But apparently all water on the plains, in these so-called "playas," is more likely to evaporate. And there are no grounds for the rumor that "estacado" was actually misheard and was really "estancado" or stagnant as in what happens to this water after it has stuck around for a while.

But I have questions about water use in general. Yes, I hear people discussing it in various places as a politically hot topic around the city. The essence of these discussions is that we city people actually have water use regulations; we can only irrigate on one day of the week (somebody said: as long as you hold the hose yourself, you can stand there all day, but if you turn on a system, you're supposed to check the city website and do it only on the day you are allowed). However if you buy a ranch or farm out in the country you can dig your own well and have no restrictions. So all new houses out there in the hinterlands are coming with their own wells. Yet the wealthy out there are complaining that after a few years, they actually have to dig another one, or dig deeper, because the water table is going down so fast.

What's up with that? It sounds like an alarming development, that wells that were good not five or ten years ago, have now run dry, and that there's a thriving industry just in redrilling for rich people who simply want a steady supply for permanent, ongoing lawn-watering.

It reminds me of a story about Las Vegas that I heard, and which, like the above, I have no way of substantiating anyway (I may be totally wrong about all of this, but have no way of knowing). The story goes like this. Las Vegas hotels were luxuriously indulgent in every way, and one way was to build these huge fountains right outside their front door that attracted tourists. At times of drought and water shortage you couldn't get much worse than southern Nevada, desert of deserts, but the casinos and hotels argued successfully that there was water in the water table, they had it covered, they lost a little bit to evaporation but by and large they contained most of the water so it was less wasteful than, say, a homeowner who constantly watered his lawn, such as you'd see in suburban Vegas or Lubbock for that matter. They went back and forth on the issue, with some people objecting most to the symbolism of it. So, they said, you use up the water table, you make this big splay in your front door, what is most irritating is the implication that there's water to waste, when in fact, there isn't. Finally the casinos got the message: it was bad PR. In times of shortage, it's like driving a Cadillac through the poor neighborhood. You should have some sense, some decency, recognize the appearance of it.

There is also, of course, the social justice angle. The water is almost gone? And people are still watering their lawns?

Monday, October 1, 2012


So I had this idea the other day, that I should just say before I know too much, and it helps actually that I'm a complete outsider, don't have a clue, don't really even know the people involved.

And that is, the city needs to make the first move, and invite Natalie Maines back into the fold as a native daughter, excellent musician that she is, and give her a place on center stage right next to her relatives and all the other proud musicians who have called Lubbock home.

Now I say this because I know the whole feud is personal, and I'm sure she's said stuff that hurt everyone's feelings, and they've hurt her feelings, yadda yadda yadda. But, she grew up here, she's ours, and we're grownups. It's time to just say, let bygones be bygones. It doesn't matter what she said or did. She's a great musician; time will bear that out. It doesn't matter if some of her songs blast Lubbock or even people she knew.

Lubbock had a music fest the other day; it honored some people with "Hall of Fame" and other status, and some people played music here and enjoyed the beneficence of a city that is now aware of the fine music it produces. Natalie "couldn't attend." That struck me as the kind of thing that happens in a personal feud. That's all I know, believe me. But somebody has to make the first move to get out of this stuff. I say, rise to the challenge, Lubbock.