Monday, June 30, 2014

Drinking our own urine

Before I get to some thoughts about the TDP convention just passed, here's a few excerpts -- via BooTrib -- about the dystopic future we can expect here in our beloved Texas.

A long -- but not too long -- piece from Phillip Longman at Washington Monthly explores the myth of Rick Perry's "Texas Miracle".  A few grafs to whet your appetite.

Is Texas our future? The question got kicked around during the last presidential campaign when Texas Governor Rick Perry was briefly riding high. Everywhere Perry went he appealed to Republican primary voters by describing what he called the “Texas Miracle.” As Perry told conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, “Since June 2009, about 48 percent of all the jobs created in America were in Texas. Come add to it.” In his stump speech Perry would click off what he said were the four major reasons his state had come to lead the nation in job creation—without ever forgetting a one of them. They were, he said, low taxes, low regulation, tort reform, and “don’t spend all the money.”


(E)ven though Perry didn’t get to replace Barack Obama in the White House (in 2012), he has continued to boast about his Texas Miracle, including in radio ads that have caused an uproar everywhere they’ve aired across the country. “Building a business is tough, but I hear building a business in California is next to impossible,” Perry intones in one, before pitching California businesses to move to Texas. In another, he announces, “I have a word of advice for employers frustrated by Illinois’s shortsighted approach to business. You need to get out while there is still time. The escape route leads straight to Texas.”

When Perry launched a similar radio campaign attacking New York for excessive regulation and inviting its businesses to “Go Big in Texas,” he inspired the comedian Lewis Black to strike back with a “Don’t F*** with NY” video that aired on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “You say we got too much regulation,” Black countercharged. “We’ve got Wall Street. They break the law for a living and never get punished.”


The idea that vast numbers of Americans are “voting with their feet” for liberty and prosperity by abandoning blue states and moving to Texas has become conservative gospel.


(R)est assured that Texas boosterism will loom large again in the next presidential election, and not just because Rick Perry is showing clear signs of another run at the White House. Texas has indeed outperformed the nation as a whole in job creation during the Obama years. And it has done so with a state government under the total control of ever-more-conservative Republicans, who now hold up that fact as validation of their whole economic agenda. Progressives, and everyone earnestly interested in improving the nation’s economic performance, need to confront all this Texas bragging and find out what, if anything, it proves.

"C'mon PDiddie, what about that 'drinking our own pee' part?"  You won't be glad you asked, young padawan.

Buddy Treybig, his bull neck burned the color of crawfish, steers his boat up the Lower Colorado, looking out the cabin for signs of life. There are birds on the staves of the dockside shore – herons and plovers and death-glare hawks – but Treybig isn't checking for them. Drum and sport fish promenade these waters, but Treybig isn't here for them, either. He's looking for fauna of the two-legged sort: other fishermen bound for Matagorda Bay, once the crown jewel of Texas estuaries. In the horn-of-plenty days a decade ago, so many vessels dragged its splendid reefs that fights would break out once the men got back to town – the locals trading punches with Vietnamese transplants and sometimes burning boats when things went squirrelly. Now there's no one but him in the channel; Treybig's rivals have either left for Louisiana or chained their fleets to the pier in Matagorda, too broke to buy the gas it takes to fish. "You'll see when we get up in the bay," mutters Treybig. "I'm the only one still dumb enough to do this."


Buddy hooks a left to the Intracoastal Waterway and takes the Mad Island cut to the Matagorda; there, the bay is forked by land, splitting into East and West Bay. Out on West Bay, it's eerily still, the raw morning cowled in February gloom, the prow of the Elaine Marie churning mud. Treybig and his deckhand, Erik Jacobson, lower their nets to the milky bottom to drag for oysters and shrimp.

"Used to be, you could make $100,000 a month [gross] just shrimping, never mind oysters," says Treybig, chomping the tip of a cigarillo into submission. "My hardest decision was going East or West Bay. Now the East Bay's dead and buried, and this one's dying right behind it."

For decades cool, fresh water flowed hundreds of miles south to these bays, released from the Colorado's main storage tanks, lakes Travis and Buchanan, above Austin. Once the river reached here, its fresh water mixed with salt water from the Gulf to create a glorious nursery for fin and shellfish, with just the right saline-and-oxygen mix to spawn endless supplies of hatchlings. En route to the Matagorda, the river watered the soil of south Texas' verdant rice fields, sustaining a $200-million-a-year industry; farm towns like Wharton, El Campo, and Bay City; and a dreamscape marshland for ducks, geese, and egrets – the largest winged migrations in the delta.

Then came the drought. The river's inflows shrank, and lakes Travis and Buchanan bottomed out as if someone had pulled the stopper. Three years ago, when they dipped to below 40 percent full, and rich homeowners saw their lakefronts slip 60 feet down dry cliffs, political heat was trained on the stewards of the river to cut off releases to downstream farmers. The board of directors of the Lower Colorado River Authority, who were empowered by the state to regulate releases, voted to stop flows to most of the growers, and allotted the bare minimum to the bays and estuaries – just enough to keep them alive until the rains returned. Instead, the river shrank, and for three springs running, those rice fields have stood fallow, putting all but a few farmers out of business. Meanwhile, water in the bay has turned brackish and sick, host to great swarms of parasites. Algae bloom in the shallows like stinkweed. Snails bind to oysters and suck the meat right out of them. An organism called dermo kills whatever the snails don't, and there's even a vicious bacteria that can eat the flesh off your arm.

"Don't fall in with an open cut," warns Treybig. "That shit gets on you, might have to chop off the limb."

I suppose I should at least mention the six-legged frogs.

"We've got quite a bunch of six-legged toads," says Phil Cook, a senior water expert who recently retired from Sierra Club Texas. "Bastrop's dirty secret is that it treats water for iron, but not estrogen and other drug compounds. That'd be way too expensive for their small system."

So you'll have to read all of that one, too, to see how it ties together.  The Texas Miracle is awash with rich folks -- corporate titans, bankers, oil and gas men, the lawyers for all of them, and the real estate developers in the cities (the blue cities, mind you) building massive corporate headquarters and apartments and upscale subdivisions as fast as they can -- while rural (red) Texas goes bust.  Here's Linda Curtis of Bastrop, who was instrumental in stopping the Trans-Texas Corridor a few years ago and is now fully engaged in the Water War, nailing 'em dead to rights.

In other states, progressive politicians could be called on to fight such stunts.

But in Texas, there is no opposition party. "Democrats are the same as Republicans here; they're all in bed with developers," says Linda Curtis, who runs the Texas League of Independent Voters, a coalition fighting the Keystone Pipeline and the ravages of sprawl on state resources. She says people like herself and her green-shoots cohort of hydrologists, lawyers, and Sierra Club types are the only ones fighting Perry's growth machine on behalf of small towns.

Through all the pom-pom waving and chanting this past weekend, it was almost hard to remember that yes, like Rachel Barrios-Van Os' bid to become state party chair, this battle feels depressingly quixotic.  Again.

A few more anecdotes from the po' folks in the boondocks.

(The author travels to) Bay City, where Chamber of Commerce executive director Mitch Thames gives me a guided tour of south Texas' post-water future. We drive to see Harley Savage, the 83-year-old foreman of a rice-farming clan that's been here since the 1820s.

"We're five generations, and my grandboys are willing, but this business is done by next year. Been through everything you could think of and came out of it OK, till Austin got so big it took our water."

Returning to Bay City, past shuttered stores that sold equipment and seed to farmers, we pay a call on Joe Crane, who runs a rice-drying plant and has 80 employees he calls family.

"Third year with no water – I've got no choice; we're looking at significant layoffs. Rice farming'll go east, to Mississippi and Tennessee, but we can't move east with it."

We meet Jonathan Fehmel, whose family has been spraying farms in this county since 1948. "We had 20 planes going from dawn to sundown, dusting thousands of acres a day. Now, it's only maybe 1,500 acres that still got water, and we've sold everything but our airstrip. We're trying to lease that, too, if you know someone."

That night, I sit with Treybig over a steak dinner, his mood as bloody as his ribeye.

"I'm up at four in the morning seven days a week, trying to catch enough to keep my oyster plant going, while the governor's out braggin' about the 'Texas Miracle.' We don't need more people, 'less they're bringin' some fuckin' water. What we need's a real miracle: two months of rain."

Well, our good Governor Oops can just send out another prayer request on official state stationery for precipitation.  That should make everything all right.

The good news for Texas Republicans is that even as Rick Perry gets on down the road, Greg Abbott -- always thinking ahead -- already has a deep well drilled at his Austin home to keep his lawn lush.  So, in keeping with a lifelong pattern, he's got his.  And if he can stop you from getting yours, he'll be even happier.

While you and your kids and grandkids drink your own recycled urine.

Some people think this is funny.  I'm not one.  As Booman says...

When Texans are all drinking their own pee, they better figure out how to get that estrogen out of it. Based on their record so far, their most likely solution will be to ban birth control and pray for the best.

Update: State Impact Texas lists five challenges to the looming Texas water crisis that might surprise you.

Related... Boom meets bust in Texas: Atop a sea of oil, poverty digs in

“Texas is not a good place to be poor, and there is little political appetite for change.”


Gadfly said...

Kathie Glass, and other Libertarians, I presume, say the same as Curtis on water rights, and eminent domain.

That said, Curtis' group strikes me less as "independent" than they do as quasi-Republican Perot types.

PDiddie said...

Curtis considers herself an Independent. Yes, capitalized. IMHO -- and despite her legitimate indy bonafides -- she's just another conservative ashamed to call herself a Republican. I would label her a libertarian without that party's affiliation.

Gadfly said...

Yeah, I'd agree with that take on her too; probably same general idea as I had. I've had a bit of interaction with her; not impressed.