The Emperor Has No Water

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Posted May 28, 2014 by STATIC in News
Flowback water flows fiercely at a gas rig near Everman.Flowback water flows fiercely at a gas rig near Everman.

It was almost 10 years ago that Static’s colleague Jeff Prince wrote one of the first stories published in these parts about the toll that gas drilling was taking on freshwater supplies in North Texas. A few years later, Static’s boss Gayle Reaves got into the act, with the first of several stories about how Texas seemed to be building its water future on a proverbial bucket that had a lot more going out than coming in. Before and since, just about everyone on the news side here (OK, that’s only about two more people) has also written on the subject, one way or another. Because, you know, the drought just keeps on giving.

But statewide, experts who have tried to point out that we are all, collectively, running out of water and that maybe somebody needs to pull in the reins on development have been pretty much booed out of town. Texas’ mouth is still making promises that its, um, bucket can’t keep. And if you don’t think that’s true, Static has some reading for you.

Go to the Denton Record-Chronicle site and look for “Water Woes.” That’s the name of an ongoing series that reads, in places, like stuff that people might have been writing at the beginning of the Dust Bowl, if they could have seen what was coming. Like Morty Ortega’s story about what happened in 2012, when the little town of Robert Lee came close to running completely out of water and residents turned out with their shovels and backhoes and, in 18 days, dug trenches and laid their own pipe to help connect to another town’s water supply. Another story, written in part by freelancer Christian McPhate, who has also written for the Weekly, details the “death grip” that the Brazos River is in due to drought and the continually increasing water withdrawals. It’s pitting farmers and ranchers against cities and major corporations such as Dow Chemical, in the fight to decide who has the rights to a water supply that no longer covers the commitments the state has made.

The ongoing series is the result of more than a year’s work by Record-Chronicle staffers and graduate students from the University of North Texas’ Mayborn School of Journalism.

Static still thinks a Fort Worth hydrologist’s words, back in one of those earlier stories, should be engraved over the door to the Texas Water Development Board offices and, possibly, on the foreheads of various state officials.

When you run out of water, he said, there is no alternative: “It’s not like if you run out of Coke you can switch to Pepsi.”


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