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.

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