The Evolution of Interbasin Surface Water Transfer Policy in Texas:
Viable options for Future Water Transfer, Water Grabs, or Just Pipe Dreams
By Todd Votteler, Kathy Alexander and the Late Joe Moore
Percival Lowell, astronomer and wealthy gentle-man, studied Mars extensively during the late 1800s and early 1900s using the great reflector telescope of Arizona’s Flagstaff Observatory. In the course of his observations, Lowell, like other astronomers of his day, sketched images of what he perceived to be canals created to bring water from the Martian polar ice caps across dry landscapes to oases and other areas of what he thought was a dying desert planet. As Lowell explained in 1895, “[t]o account for these phenomena, the explanation that at once suggests itself is, that a direct transference of water takes place over the face of the planet, and that the canals are so many waterways.” Alas, Lowell’s imagination was more fertile than the frozen, arid plains of Mars upon which he gazed. Back in Texas, it would only be a few years later, in 1900, when the first interbasin water transfer was authorized allowing 168,000 acre-feet of surface water from the Colorado River Basin for use in the Lavaca River Basin.
Yet even after 100 years of interbasin water transfer in Texas, the existence of canals and pipelines transferring surface water across portions of the state seems almost as alien to much of the populace of Texas as the Martian “canals” appeared to Lowell. The premise appears to be simple—transport available surface water to the areas that need it. However, the reality is much more complex. The possibility of the movement of large volumes of water from wetter areas of the state to drier ones, like an unwanted invasion from a distant world, has become a matter of fear and confusion for the citizenry of the basins of origin in Texas. This article attempts to remove some of the fear and confusion by shining a light on the development of Texas interbasin water transfer policy. The history of this policy is examined and information regarding current and future interbasin water transfer is provided
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