Monday, November 23, 2009

Commentary: Sharing water and responsibilities

A commentary I wrote on Texas' serious water issues appears in today's Austin American-Statesman. It is critical that we strike the right balance when dealing with the distribution of water. Please take some time to read the commentary and pass it along to others. Thank you.

Staples: Sharing water and responsibilities
Austin American Statesman
Monday, November 23, 2009

When I first began serving as a state representative, I remember House Speaker Pete Laney beginning his speech on opening day by saying, "One hundred years ago, Texans were carrying guns and fighting over water. Not much has changed."

I hope Texans never give up their fighting spirit, but competing over water is a battle we must move beyond. The drought of 2008-2009 has brought home some tough realities for all Texans and an even tougher debate about how to allocate available water supplies.

I appreciate the Lower Colorado River Authority's recent decision to honor an existing contract with Texas rice farmers that will supply water for their first crop. At issue is the availability of water for a much-needed second crop to help increase an already limited supply of rice. Much of the rice Texans find in grocery stores is grown right here in the Lone Star State. In fact, a recent report shows the rice grown in the three counties that receive LCRA water has an annual economic impact of $355 million for the Texas economy and is responsible for 2,590 jobs.

All water managers, suppliers, planners and strategists must be careful to realize this is not a clear-cut fight between opposing parties in need of water. We cannot simply grapple over what we have. Each has a responsibility to extend the reach of existing resources and develop new and reliable sources of water.

Yes, municipalities need water. Yes, industry needs water. Yes, our ecological systems and residents need water. But we also need our farmers to have water. If affordable options for water are not provided to our farmers, it is likely Texans will no longer have affordable and safe food supplies.

As we contemplate water strategies, water needs and water allocations, it is important to keep in mind the lack of water and who gets cut off is not just a farmer's problem — it's a Texas problem.

Conservation practices, more drought-tolerant seed varieties, technology and more efficient watering systems are all a part of a farmer's proper water management. Farmers have made tremendous strides in the last few years alone, and more steps are being taken to preserve water resources.

Whether we stop and think about it daily or not, the reality is water starts and ends with the land and the landowner. We must approach this water debate not from a winner's and loser's perspective, but from a Texas perspective. Otherwise, we focus too much on the problems and not enough on the solutions.

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