Texas Prop 6: Loved by Dow, The Koch Brothers, And The Sierra Club

Brazos river runs dry in Knox County, Texas during the summer drought of 2011. Courtesy of TPWD.

A dry Brazos River  in Knox County during the drought of 2011. Image courtesy of TPWD.

After more than a decade of virtually ignoring Texas’ growing water infrastructure needs, Rick Perry is guns a-blazing for Prop 6, a plan, if approved by voters on November 5, will funnel $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund into a newly created State Water Implementation Fund for Texas.

The fund would create a vehicle for cities and towns across the state to tap into low-interest loans for projects in line with the State Water Plan as devised by the Texas Water Development Board in consultation with regional water districts. 

The plan recommends $53 billion in projects over the next 50 years expected to meet a mere one quarter of the state’s water demand as the population is expected to double. Perry has repeatedly said the $2 billion in seed money could lead to the construction of $30 billion worth of water projects. And, to date, the plan has received broad support.

Funding an aggressive sales drive have been those that would build the reservoirs and corporations most desperate for continued cheap sources of water.

According to the Dallas Morning News:

Water Texas, the premiere political action committee pushing for a Nov. 5 water funding measure, raised nearly $1 million in August and September.

Top backers of Water Texas, led by House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, include major energy, chemical and building interests in the state. …

Biggest contributors

  • $375,000 –   Associated General Contractors of Texas
  • $250,000 –   Dow Chemical
  • $100,000 –   Energy Future Holdings / Luminant
  • $25,000   —  Valero Energy Corp. PAC and LyondellBasell
  • $20,000   –   Koch Industries Inc.

In one of those (almost) antiquated media backhands aimed at tarnishing the environmental movement (as if it were one entity), Bloomberg News reports that “environmentalists” are against the plan.

The measure faces opposition from Tea Party groups who are against spending the rainy-day fund, and from environmentalists who say it will do little good.

Not quite. The Sierra Club is firmly behind it. So is Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and Environment Texas.

That is not to say that there are not reasons to oppose it.

“How the money will be apportioned is still unknown,” Ronald Kaiser, professor of Water Law and Policy at Texas A&M University, told the Houston Chronicle recently. “People are putting all their faith in the water board.”

While a writer for the Texas Water Resources Institute called the TWDB’s State Water Plan the “closest thing to a clear solution to Texas’ water woes” and the “the envy of other states,” the Southwest Farm Press points out that:

The most expensive project on the list calls for $1.8 billion to construct a pipeline to South Texas for municipal water use in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The second priciest project on the list involves a $700 million-plus plan to buy irrigation water from South Texas for municipal use in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, mostly to facilitate landscape irrigation.*

The Texas Water Development Board confirmed that some households in the Fort Worth area have provided irrigation of landscaped yards through the winter months in spite of the drought. In 2011, the state’s driest year on record, much of Fort Worth’s public water, estimated 45 percent, went to landscape watering. By contrast, the City of San Antonio estimated 25 percent of public water was used for watering and landscape purposes for the same period.

There are, to put it mildly, inequities in play here, and the historic patterns of large-scale rural-to-urban water transfers are poised to continue.

While Dallas proper has tempered its per-capita water use slightly between 2008 and 2011 (the most recent year for which such data is available from the TWDB) to 193 gallons per day, per resident, San Antonio and El Paso have reduced their way to 149 and 144 gpd per capita, respectively.

Unchanged are the wealthy suburbs of these cities. Plano outside Dallas uses on average 238 gpd/resident; Alamo Heights inside San Antonio uses 255 gpd/resident. And if Houston’s average water use of 191 gpd/resident seems high, just drive over to its suburb of Piney Point Village, where residents use on average 499 gallons per day.

And yet the State Water Plan commits too little by way of conservation, according to Alyssa Burgin, director of the advocacy organization Texas Drought Project.

“In the original legislation, it’s very carefully worded. It says the Texas Water Development Board ‘shall undertake to apply these funds (for conservation),’ as opposed to ‘the Texas Water Development Board shall apply,’ said Burgin. “To some people that may sound like a very minor difference  but for someone who has been around politics as long as I have it sounds like a hole big enough to drive a very large water truck through.

“Let’s face it,” she added. “I’ve never been on the side of the Koch Brothers, and I’m not going to start now.”

Obviously pressures to act are deep and real. Whether via Prop 6 or no, we must wrest the deepest possible conservation gains from our population centers. Then there are underground reservoirs, desalination of groundwater, and the artificial division of ground and surface water rules in need of consolidation, as Glenn Longly, director of the Edwards Aquifer Research and Data Center in San Marcos at Texas State University, told to me recently.

Before we start any more billion-dollar water projects, we should be requiring cities to meet the strictest of conservation measures — in some cases the abandonment of English lawns altogether. The deeply water-constrained future we are only beginning to enter into will require as much and more.

* I could not find these projects in the Texas Water Plan and a spokesperson for the TWDB said they did not know what the author of the article was referring to. The most expensive item listed in the Texas Water Plan I found was the proposed $3.3 billion Marvin Nichols Reservoir to feed DFW, 170 miles away, a project opposed by the Sierra Club.



12 responses to “Texas Prop 6: Loved by Dow, The Koch Brothers, And The Sierra Club

  1. Thanks for the explanation of something I heard mentioned on “the Source” but I didn’t know most of these details. I hope that all of your San Antonio readers will urge their City Council representatives to insist that SAWS change its rates-increase proposal to make the upper two tiers (for people who use far more than necessary water each month) dramatically more expensive, while keeping tier 2 the same rate and reducing tier 1 to a rate more-affordable for working class families. Despite our city’s impressive improvements so far, we are still not conserving enough water. It is much easier, in the long run, to conserve and protect our water than to try to find new sources of water.

  2. hand in hand with strict conservation measures and tiered water rates, we should be forcing developers to foot the whole bill for unsustainable economic growth…not giving them incentives and sewer extensions.

  3. You’d be right to talk to Ken Kramer about the holes in this piece. Equating our work to the Koch Brothers is laughable. Happy to make that connection. – Dave Cortez, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, Austin, Texas

    • Nowhere in this post do I “equate the work” of the Sierra Club (or Environment Texas or the Nature Conservancy, also supporting the prop) with that of the Kochs. The point of the post, as is pretty plainly reflected in the headline, is that the measure has support from a broad spectrum of interests.

  4. Prop 6 is the result of a bad deal struck between the two parties in the legislature. The Republicans pushed first to ‘streamline’ the Texas Water Development Board to three of Rick Perry’s hand-picked cronies. Then they offered the Democrats education funding in return for $2B ‘offline’ from the Rainy Day Fund for water projects. The problem is Perry’s cronies get to pick which projects! Do you really think they’re going to choose conservation programs?
    You can read all the details at our website under the “Nix Prop 6” button. I think Sierra Club and others just made a tactical error in getting behind this. Good organizations, bad decisions.
    Best wishes, Linda Curtis, Independent Texans

  5. Very difficult to find anything on Prop 6 that isn’t tainted by propaganda. Thanks for filling in some of the huge gaps on straight reporting on this vital issue. Alyssa Burgin’s words are especially illuminating.

  6. It’s apparently easy to make deals with the devils when you are in Hell with them. Getting out of Austin and seeing what’s going on in our communities being bombarded by fracking is the better strategy with all of this. The oil and gas industry will always do whatever it takes to extract gas and oil. And then they might seek forgiveness. But they can never give it back. Ever.


  7. Very useful reporting.–thanks. I was being lazy and had not followed the development of this Prop. What is most ridiculous to me is the idea of piping water from S. TX to north TX metroplex For anyone familiar w/ LA water history, this reads as deja vu except Owens Valley had water before it was piped away; I’m thinking they’d get down to the Rio Grande before finding much at all to pipe…And no more TX produce and citrus from the south? not to mention wiping the RGV virtually off the map… This looks like funding water transport for fossil fuel extraction, nuclear energy, corp. agric. and some extravagant water use in DFW.
    BTW, 25 % for watering and landscape in SA would technically include gardens & fruit and nut trees… This is water not going down the drain but into the soil. With organic methods and gray water (now legal, I hear) and rain water collection, that could be cut back but I don’t see that percentage as a problem…

  8. Thanks Greg for the enlightenment. It changed my mind on Prop. 6. Conservation in the form of minimizing waste and Innovation in reuse and recycling of our water are the only viable means to long term sustainability in light of West Texas Climate Change.
    If the proposed Pipelines were oriented from the Southeast Texas Coast, where increased rainfall is projected, to the Northwest and far West Texas, where decreased rainfall is projected, I would expect that climate change inclusive reasoning had taken place. As of now, we must eliminate potable water use for fracking and other industrial uses. Graded water quality resulting from reclaimed sources, that would make urban areas massive sources rather than the massive sinks they are now, should become the SOP for sustainability.
    Meat production, long proven to be most water inefficient for long term environmental sustainability should be significantly reduced in light of the more healthy Mediterranian diet, that more informed citizens are recognizing.
    We can decrease the impact of climate change while improving our individual economic situations just by reducing waste in all of our daily activities. The USA continues to lead all countries in energy waste per capita. Without changing our quality of life, we can save up to 20% of our energy expenses by reducing the everyday discards, unnecesary product packaging, walking comfortable distances instead of driving, proper inflation of tires for long trips, using mass transit where available, properly weatherizing our habitats, efficient lighting, etc. By eliminating our 20% waste we reduce world energy use by up to 5%, that results in a significant change in the GHGs that have been proven to cause Climate Change.
    Thanks Again, Greg.

  9. Pingback: “WHEN” will DFW’s Nuclear Plant in Glenrose loose its cooling reservoir from drought? | Arlington TX Barnett Shale Blogger·

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