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Trouble Down in Texas #1

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A Recurring Series of Observations on Ignored Problems

Oh yay, we are growing. Everybody is excited. Texas supposedly gets upwards of 1,300 to 1,500 new people a day and Austin reportedly acquires 150 of those. I need to say immediately I think we've got enough. Why in the hell does everyone think growth is such a great thing? Isn't it cancer when your cells grow too fast?

I'm sure that right now, somewhere southbound, is a very cool person who can't wait to get down to South Congress in Austin and tweet about how cool the SoCo is or punch their FourSquare check in that they are standing in line for two hours to glom onto a burger at HopDoddy's. "OMG! Can't wait to stand in line for three hours tomorrow to get some Franklin's BBQ."

Texas is filling up with these folks. They call themselves things like "foodies" and they buy a new pair of boots and a Ford F-150 with their tech company paychecks and they stream Pat Green on Pandora while they drive around and get lost in the Hill Country. They post on Facebook about some cool beer joint they stumbled on but they couldn't tell an FM road from an RR with the GPS on their new iPhone 5 sweetly bitching at them.

But the dipsters aren't the only people invading Texas. In my little town on the edge of the hill country, which used to be a separate community but is now overrun with Austin sprawl, everyone at city hall is excited about yet another big development. The news release out of Charlotte, N.C., by the developer says it will be a 500-acer master planned community (they are always master planned until the master decides there's more money to be made with an apartment complex in your backyard) with 1,250 new homes and "access to light rail and native wooded areas." Oh, and it will be a TOD, or transit-oriented development.

Not sure where those woods might be located since everything between here and the XIT Ranch has pretty much been paved over and there isn't any "light rail" in Austin. There is "commuter rail" and most of the people who live in the town where this cool new development is located tend to ignore the choo-choo. They've got shiny new trucks. Maybe TOD means the newcomers will have a road to drive on to reach the train station, if they ever use it. I'm also hoping the developer has more foresight than the political and business leadership in Leander, Texas, because this town is a collection of dollar stores, car washes on every other corner, Walgreen's or CVS, and auto parts stores, and, predictably, a couple of very good family run Mexican food joints.

And yes, I'm an immigrant, an outlander come down from a state with an abundant supply of water; except I'm claiming my right to bitch. I've been here since 1975 and have been writing and reporting on politics and government and important issues to Texas through all of those years. Plus, I've lived in a mobile home in the desert outside of Laredo with an unreliable window box air conditioner, which made it feel like being inside of a beer can on the side of the road in 115 degree temperatures. And I've been to damned near every town in the state a few times and figure if George W. Bush can hang out in Midland for a few years in middle school before he goes off to boarding school in New England, and he can call himself the real deal, so the hell can I.

There are a million reasons this growth nonsense scares me for Texas. Let's start with water as our first little worry bead. Those 1,250 new homes I just told you about? They will almost all be people from out of state, places where there were green lawns and lots of water, and they'll put in irrigation systems to water their lawns. They'll wash those F-150s and multiple Lexi (plural for Lexus) and, in general, dip a big fat straw into lakes that are running dry.

And they'll do nothing preventive, either; the grass that gets planted will be the water-guzzling St. Augustine because it makes such a nice green yard and there will be flowers and bushes that need way too much attention here on the edge of the desert. When someone suggests they Xeriscape with native plants, they will ask, "What is Zeroscape?" and greater idiocy will be loosed upon the land.

Want to know how bad the water problem is in Texas, my fellow outlanders? We are flat-assed running out and your green lawn is part of the problem. There are no natural glaciated lakes in Texas, the great maker of glaciers and dinosaurs with saddles on them for the humans, did not let the ice reach this far south. If you want water, go to Minnesota, please. We have two natural lakes in Texas, Green Lake down near the coast and Caddo Lake up in East Texas. Caddo was created when a 100-mile log raft caused a flood and Green Lake happened about 2,200 years ago after a change in the watercourse of the Guadalupe River.


Green Lake

Every other drop of water in this state comes from a reservoir or an underground aquifer. But even as our idjit state legislators champion growth and our governor runs around the country inviting every jack leg pawn shop gun broker to move down here they continue their refusal to fund building reservoirs. In fact, the state had an $8 billion surplus a few years ago and no one had the political will to requisition it to fund new reservoirs. The supreme cowardice at the capitol was manifested by a decision to ask voters to approve a $2 billion bond for reservoirs. How much dam can you get for that? Maybe one? Well, it's what the people voted for and nobody in the pink granite building has liability, which is, of course, the plan.


Caddo Lake

The Colorado River, backed up behind the Mansfield Dam in the middle of the state, is called Lake Travis; except it's returned to being just a river because there's no water for LBJ's dam to capture. But the political leadership in San Antonio and on the Lower Colorado River Authority have been talking about dropping a sippy straw into Travis and piping water down to the Alamo City, the only significant metro area in America without a reservoir. San Antonio thinks its problems are minimal since it sits on the edge of a vast underground reservoir called the Edwards Aquifer. Not much attention is paid every summer when the aquifer drops down to historic lows because everyone is so confident the aquifer will recharge, which might happen, if it ever freakin' rains again.

Austin's Water Supply: All That is Brown Used to be Blue

I'm sure we should talk here about the absurdity of Texas water law, too, if anyone is still paying attention. It's one of those Old West laws built around the right of capture and first in time, first in right. You own the land; you can use all the water you can pump from the ground on your property. And it doesn't matter in the least that you might be pumping dry your neighbor a mile away who pulls from the same underground stream. Go ahead and set yourself up a shrimp farm and pull out millions of gallons a day. Nobody can do a damned thing to you. Because this is, by god, Texas where we are all self-reliant.

And thirsty as hell.

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