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?

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