Guest Post by Jared Pesseto, Student Intern Coordinator.
This week the Texas Tribune and KUT 90.5FM have partnered on a series called “Water Fight,” a close look at the various demands on Central Texas’ threatened water supply. The series has made its way further down the Colorado River each day, starting first with a look at dwindling water-levels in the Highland Lakes, then on to municipal demands from cities like Austin, and today to the lush but endangered rice fields near the Texas coast. Tomorrow they will conclude the series with a look at new demands on the water supply in the lower Colorado River, and fortunately they have not overlooked the proposed White Stallion coal plant in Bay City.
It is reassuring to see that KUT and the Texas Tribune are giving serious attention to a serious issue, but one aspect of their approach that is troubling is that the various parties have been prematurely positioned in direct conflict with each other when in fact there is much reason for them to join hands. Lakeside residents, farmers, and cities along the river basin may indeed be party to competing interests in the Colorado River, but when discussing water supply issues in Central Texas we should be careful not to put these groups into opposition quite so readily, for there is an even more pressing threat to water supply in the lower Colorado River that can, and indeed already has brought these groups together in common cause.
As mentioned just briefly in the first part of the series—and something that hopefully will be taken up in much greater detail tomorrow—a coal-fired power plant proposed for Bay City jeopardizes the livelihoods of rice farmers and lakeside property owners alike. Slated for construction 100 miles southwest of Houston on the Colorado River, the White Stallion coal plant requires an 8 billion gallon per year water contract from the Lower Colorado River Authority. If this contract is granted, White Stallion will drain 22 million gallons of water from the lower Colorado River each and every day—a water commitment that is neither wise nor sustainable says Dr. Lauren Ross of Glenrose Engineering, Inc., who authored a report detailing the demands that the White Stallion plant will place on the water supply in the Colorado River. Add to this the disastrous and proven public health threats associated with coal-fired power plants and you have an issue that all sides can find common ground on.
Rice farmers, residents of the Highland Lakes region, and Texans along the Colorado River basin can and should come together to oppose the granting of the White Stallion water contract. Not only can these groups find common ground, but they already have. Just last week members of the various groups came together at a meeting of the LCRA Board of Directors to state their unified opposition to the board’s granting of the water contract. After hours of individual public comments—only one of which was made in support of the contract—the LCRA board took into account the concerns of the people and chose to withhold voting on the contract until further consideration at their August meeting.
Come August, I can guarantee that rice farmers and lakefront property owners will be standing side by side in front of the LCRA Board of Directors to express their disapproval of the White Stallion water contract. Until that vote is taken, though, and the fate of the White Stallion coal plant decided, it would be a gross misfortune to agitate divisions between these groups. In no way do I feel that this was the intention of KUT and the Texas Observer in producing the second part of this series, and perhaps this issue will be addressed in the final segment of the series. If by chance the issue is not given further voice to, whether by airwaves or by print, it should be known that competition and confrontation between Highland Lakes stakeholders and farmers along the Colorado River is not the de facto relationship in all cases. Threats to our water supply come from all angles, some dividing and some uniting the parties discussed in this series. And while the competition between these parties may be actual and acknowledged, I would hate for our focus to be so narrowed on the obvious divisions that we miss the very thing that threatens us all—White Stallion.
The fifth and final part of the “Water Fight” series will air tomorrow morning at 7:30am on KUT 90.5 FM. Past segments of the series can be found in both audio and text online at KUT.org and TexasTribune.com.