In Texas' business-friendly climate, no industry spokesperson wants to be the weakling who admits that maybe water is sort of important. But it appears that some tough guys are finally letting their guard down. Last week, a rice farmer gave an interview in which he wasn't so coy about water, and how human civilization depends on it.
If the drought keeps depleting Texas' water supplies, "it could be devastating not just to our industry but to every industry in the state," a rice farmer named Ronald Gertson recently admitted to the Texas Tribune.
The Tribune's report focuses mainly on the larger role that climate change is playing in drying up Texas' water supply, a theory with lots of research backing it. "Most climate scientists here believe the higher temperatures are part of a long-term global trend and that humans are partly to blame," the Tribune gently says of the connection between drought and human-caused global warming. "Gertson's not sure if he believes that," the report adds, "but he does know it's been getting warmer and drier." Good for you Gertson.
Still, Gertson's acknowledgement is major step in a state home to many of the big oil companies that used to profusely deny any sort of connection between humans and climate change. (Now, Exxon admits climate change is real but says that shouldn't stop us from using all the oil). More recently, some industries have tried to claim that while maybe climate change is real, the need for water sort of isn't.
When the Guardian last year covered the plight of a Texas town that had run out of water, for example, the newspaper pointed out that local fracking companies still had access to as much groundwater as they pleased even as residents were resorting to rationing. The paper spoke to a contractor from a nearby town, who was making a killing out of selling water to the oil industry. He was unapologetic. "If you're going to develop the oil, you've got to have the water," said Larry Baxer, the contractor. "People use their water for food and fibre. I choose to use my water to sell to the oil field ... Who's taking advantage? I don't see any difference."
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Fights between frackers who need lots of water to pump wells and the dried-up towns losing their groundwater supply faster as a result have been in the news for a while now, but it's not fair to just blame the oil industry. This year the beef industry has also been experiencing a freakout over the EPA's attempts to regulate all the crap they apparently dump into waterways. The EPA has been attempting to pass a new rule that would bar any industry from dumping stuff into any body of water that connects to a larger lake or stream without a permit, and the rule is not popular here. "If adopted, the new rule would not be good for the Texas cattle industry," The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association said in August.
Also, let's not forget the rich people in Austin who, the local media uncovered, are drilling private wells to water their lawns. Greg Abbott was one of those who got called out.
So obviously, we're dealing with a government and business atmosphere that isn't big on the concept of water, or at least the concept of sharing water with other people. So someone going on record that water is important for all of Texas businesses, even businesses that aren't his own, is kind of a big deal. The Texas Water Development board doesn't have an official position on climate change, the Tribune report explains, and neither does Gertson, the rice farmer who is nonetheless concerned about water: "Ronald Gertson doesn't take sides in that debate, but he says that without water, that famous Texas miracle is going to dry up. " That is an excellent point, and one thing we'd just like to add is that without water the humans who live in Texas and have been supporting the Texas miracle will also "dry up," so to speak.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.