By our very own Margot Clarke, Vice Chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. (Reposted from AustinEcoNetwork)
A couple of nights ago I finished reading Elmer Kelton’s The Time It Never Rained; it’s a novel about a West Texas rancher set during the years of the drought in the 1950s.
Thinking about what the ranchers, ranch hands, and business owners in the tiny town went through, and lost, as year after year brought no relief from the dry conditions, I remembered a couple of stories on NPR about the effects of this current drought in Texas. The first story, reported from a livestock auction in East Texas, had some similarities to the novel. Ranchers were selling off their herds, getting low prices for thin cattle, many with little hope of building up again at their age.
The second story was about the drought’s effects on Nature. It was even grimmer stuff: oysters dying from high salinity due to low inflows to the bays; bats in peril from needing to fly longer and farther to find food; and then the descriptions of squirrels pushing their babies out of nests because they couldn’t be fed, and fawns abandoned for the sake of the does’ survival.
Which brings me back to our bustling and growing city. For many years the patterns of water use in Texas have been changing, with more and more shifting from agricultural use to the municipal sector, as suburbs spread into fields formerly occupied by crops and livestock. This summer we have all groused endlessly about the drought (and the heat), wished for rain, and, hopefully, adjusted our water use patterns. But clean water still comes out of our faucets and sprinklers, and surviving drought with our livelihoods, property, and families intact is not really an issue for us “city folk.”.
Except … The book didn’t mention wildfires but there is little doubt that the drought was a major factor in the terrifying destruction in Bastrop and elsewhere nearby. So, maybe we ought to be thinking differently about our place in the natural world, and about actually adapting to changing conditions. We might want to think, if nothing else, about how really lucky, comfortable, and perhaps heedless we truly are. To hear people say, as I did on TV just tonight, that the state needs to build more reservoirs and that “we need more surface water in this state,” makes one wonder just where they think water comes from. The water that is here is all there is, needed to support every living thing. Building a reservoir does not make more water, there is no such thing as new water sources. Come on, folks, let’s think!