The Punishment for Foresight

Legislative Greed and Envy over Dallas’ Water Wealth

With regard to some attempt of mine to expose and correct a bureaucratic wrong, the details long forgotten because I’ve made such efforts so many times, a manager of a weather forecasting center very close to home once told me: “No good deed shall go unpunished.” This applies not only to individuals, but to those few big governments that show remarkable foresight in looking out for their taxpayers.

From the droughts of the early 1900s to those of today, civic and governmental leaders in the city of Dallas — proudly, my home town — understood the need for a stable, functional and safe water supply for not only all the citizens of the present, but for expansive growth attracting many new citizens in the future. It was obvious that any combination of wells, rivers and little municipal lakes (i.e., White Rock) were not going to do the trick. North Texas was a drought prone place, and the sight of dry rivers, dry wells, and vanishing little lakeshores duly scared the hell out of some very smart and concerned people, who happened to be in positions of power in both the business and civic sectors.

It would have been too easy for the leaders of 1930s-1050s Dallas to hem and haw, consider everything but do nothing, and/or try to placate a squishy middle at the expense of the audaciously foresighted. They could have taken the cheap and easy way out, bogging the ultimate big solutions and millions of tax dollars down in the bureaucratic wet concrete of endless “task forces,” study and focus groups, and short-term, band-aid solutions. Of course, the latter is the way civic government runs today in most places. Councils and mayors pander in abject cowardice to every possible viewpoint, to avoid offending some disproportionately shrill fringe group or two. They waffle hither and yon on the pendulum of inaction, afraid to offer and enact bold, long-term resource management plans.

Not that Dallas. That Dallas chose to think. That Dallas chose to lead. That Dallas chose to act.

In the ensuing half century, long before they needed all or even a large fraction of the water, the leaders of Dallas worked together to ensure that a number of huge reservoirs took shape around the North Texas landscape. Funded by bonds and direct tax money, usually in collaboration with state and federal agencies, and built with opposition only from the tiniest of numerical minorities, the likes of Lakes Ray Hubbard, Lewisville, Joe Pool, Grapevine, Tawakoni, Ray Roberts and others gradually sprouted into existence as giant oases in the often searing hot landscape. These lakes not only have provided a steady and reliable supply of safe drinking water for Dallas, they have benefited regional recreation, tourism, parkland preservation and local real estate values. Moreover, they likely saved thousands of human lives and prevented untold disease and misery in controlling downstream flooding during the big rains that tend to stampede through the ends of droughts.

In more recent years, as room for new lakes runs out and as the shrill minority of local opposition to remaining projects becomes ever more influential, Dallas has adapted with adroit foresight — still planning the big projects, but also enacting and enforcing conservation laws and reusing treated wastewater, sowing seeds of a still more conscious approach to limited supply. These are good things, right?

Not if you’re a representative of many other communities around the state, large and small, envious of Dallas’ success and vision, resentful of its water wealth and hell-bent on concocting legal ways to steal some of that water.

This leads me to some reading I’ve done lately in the Dallas Morning News online. It’s a subscription site whose stories go into a pay archive after several days, so I’ll summarize instead of link. The deal is this: As part of what various state lawmakers like to call “comprehensive water bills,” these external bureaucratic busybodies are proposing solutions such as

  1. Requiring Dallas to sell, or even give, water to other municipalities regionally and statewide,
  2. Slapping what amounts to a water-luxury tax on Dallas water consumers to be diverted to communities all over Texas that are short on water (in other words, that failed to prepare as Dallas did),
  3. Restricting Dallas’ water recycling programs, in order to discharge more water back downstream.

While they’re all prime examples of Grand Theft Hydrology, the latter one made my jaw drop. Stop Dallas from recycling so much water so someone else can have more of the city’s toilet-flushings float their way? Asinine! That’s one of the most ridiculous, idiotic, sewage-for-brains ideas I’ve heard come from any governmental official or entity, which says something. A giant American city tries to do the right thing and conserve, hence, “No good deed shall go unpunished.”

Hmm…maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised after all. It always has been interesting to watch the roaches of reactionary rule-making crawl out of the legislative woodwork — of course, after a crisis begins, instead of in a preventative fashion many decades prior. Did these people, or their predecessors dating back 50 years, ever consider the concept of planning for a (non) rainy day?

Perhaps Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm put it most succinctly: “We’ve been good planners, and no one should take advantage of our hard work and investment.”

Another quote excerpted from a recent DMN article:

    “Dallas has been on the cutting edge of developing water resources, and the taxpayers have spent a huge amount of money on water,” said Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas. “Now that the rest of the state is realizing they have to play catch-up, they want us to help pay for their past unwillingness to bear the cost. That to me is totally unfair.”

This effort by legislators outside Dallas to appease the bureaucratic busybodies back home amounts to reactionary meddling in the city’s internal planning affairs, by all those jealous little fiefdoms who themselves failed to show the foresight, preparation and boldness that Dallas did well before I was even born.

Today’s Dallas has had its civic problems lately, no doubt, especially in schools and police. Those are well documented elsewhere (and by the way, are improving under belated resurrections of firm leadership). But Dallas should not — and will not — sit there and take such abuse while a bunch of sanctimonious legislative Robin Hoods force the city to let go of the rewards of its careful planning and foresight.

My first impulse was to compare the situation to enacting a personal property tax on individuals — itself an onerous governmental tactic in some locales specifically designed to steal your money simply for owning stuff. But that analogy doesn’t do justice to this injustice. Dallas is not an individual acquiring material wealth; it is a city planning for the secure future of over a million citizens in its borders — and nearly as many more outside the city who buy its water already. More importantly, Dallas is its people. The city has a continuing responsibility to its taxpayers to provide them with a safe, clean water supply assured well into the future; and by smartly planning for over half a century, has fulfilled that responsibility.

To the other jurisdictions who didn’t plan so well: Don’t tread on Dallas. It’s not Dallas’ fault your Great White Fathers failed you back in the ’50s. Buckle up, tighten the belt, conserve to the max, admit your past lack of leadership, come before Dallas with humility and a sufficiently lucrative offer…and maybe, just maybe, Dallas will sell you some of its hard-earned water.


One Response to “The Punishment for Foresight”

  1. Chaps-n-Saddles on January 3rd, 2007 10:04 pm

    Around Dallas everybody else is fighting to tap in. Wow, that sounds like the exact reverse of Denver! Here we wish they would stop tapping OUT. Here we are on the Western Slope getting sucked dry by a city that didn’t plan. The Great Cancerous Parasite they are. A tumor that spreads out all over the Front Range and into the headwaters of streams my grandfather used to catch trophy trout from. Wild trout, not stocked! No water for either now. And now they’re running pipes into even more of our streams and others all over the state, because Denver didn’t know how to manage its growth or its water resources 50 years ago and still doesn’t. Pathetic, greedy, shortsighted .. there’s lots of words that describe their so-called leadership on water issues! Denver the giant blood sucking tick. Dallas at least saw their future and did something about it while they still could and now they’ve got a bunch of little ticks trying really hard to suck them dry.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.