Westward H2O

Texas’ new water plan is designed to save San Antonio.

THE SHOCK WAVES ARE BEGINNING to be felt from the Texas Water Commission’s decision that the Edwards Aquifer is an underground river—meaning that surface owners can’t use its water without a permit. Another state agency, the Water Development Board, was quick to dust off the old idea of transferring water from water-rich East Texas to water-poor areas dependent on the Edwards. The plan, still at the study stage, is to tap the state’s largest reservoir, little-used Toledo Bend on the Louisiana border, to provide water for Houston. Then Houston will no longer need as much water from other rivers, creating a surplus that can be moved to the next river to the west, creating a surplus that can be moved to . . . you get the idea. Eventually the westbound surplus will end up in the lower Guadalupe, freeing water in the upper Guadalupe to be used by San Antonio. But if the Water Commission’s ability to regulate private pumping doesn’t stand up—and it will be under fierce attack in court and in the Legislature—the plan is dead in the water.

Stir Crazy

IT’S NO SECRET that Texas parole policy has been a shambles for years. Headlines about heinous crimes committed by parolees have provided ample evidence that too many dangerous people were being released from prison too soon. But that policy is now changing. In the first three months of 1992, the parole board let out 6,832 criminals from Texas prisons, compared to an average quarterly release of more than 8,200 for the previous two years. The ßood of paroles was due in part to pressure from county governments, which were forced to keep convicted felons in local jails because there wasn’t any room in state prisons. The state’s ill-judged response was to empty the prisons: In the last fiscal year, there were 33,633 paroles, almost two thirds of the average inmate population. At the same time, more than 13,000 parole violators were sent back to prison that year. Most of them had no business getting out in the first place, says Jack Kyle, a former prison warden named by Governor Richards to be the new chairman of the parole board. In any case, releasing dangerous types doesn’t help the overcrowding problem, because they soon return to prison. So the new policy is a return to sanity: deny parole to bad risks. But being more selective about who gets paroled is only part of the problem. The prison system deserves blame for giving excessive time credits to inmates, thus speeding up their eligibility for parole. The latest figures show that an astonishing 82 percent of the inmates in Texas prisons enjoy trusty status.

Perot Fallout

ROSS PEROT MAY SHAKE UP more than the presidential race. If he runs (and it seems certain that he will), his challenge to politics-as-usual could bring a multitude of habitual nonvoters to the polls. Will they vote only for president and ignore the rest of the ballot? If they vote in all the other races, how will they vote? The likelihood is that Perot voters will be anti-incumbent, if they have any idea who the incumbent is. In Texas the races most likely to be affected by a Perot candidacy are those highest on the ballot—for Congress and for the Texas Railroad Commission. In El Paso, for example, a big pro-Perot turnout by soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss could give a boost to Chip Taberski, the Republican challenger to Democratic congressman Ron Coleman, who is in trouble because of overdrafts at the House Bank. Perot’s effect on what is expected to be a close Railroad Commission race between incumbent Democrat Lena Guerrero and Republican newcomer Barry Williamson is harder to figure. Perot helps Guerrero among regular voters. Some people who normally pull the Republican lever will be picking and choosing their way through the rest of the ballot after voting for Perot. That means more potential votes for Guerrero, especially from women. Perot is unlikely to attract many straight-ticket Democratic voters, so Williamson won’t get the same benefit.

But he gets a different one. Perot may hurt Guerrero among the new voters he brings out, many of whom are likely to be Anglo males.

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