Disaster, Part One: Lubbock

The Texas Water Plan, that elaborate scheme to import water from the mouth of the Mississippi to the arid West Texas plains, is like an aging stripper. Both are patched relics of their former selves, both have by now laid claim to popular attention far longer than their ability to command it, neither has attained the measure of success they once hoped for, and neither is any longer likely to deliver what they promise, water in the one case and sex in the other. About one of those two subjects, any visitor will discover, West Texans are passionate.

The most passionate of all are the people of the High Plains, the vast, wealthy, agricultural area whose economic and geographic center is Lubbock. That agricultural wealth is based on irrigation from an immense underground reservoir called the Ogallala aquifer. That reservoir is running out. Without its water the High Plains will have to return to dry-land farming in a semi-arid area where what rainfall there is itends to come in the early spring and late fall when it is of little help to farmers. Without irrigation, yields will be smaller; farm revenues will therefore fall; and Lubbock, which has been something of a boom town in the immediate past—the 1973 unemployment rate was only two per cent and the population increased by fifteen per cent between 1960 and 1970—will become another West Texas town that once was a boom town and is now in irreversible decline.

Since the only way to avoid this economic disaster is finding a source of water to replace the Ogallala, it is very difficult to find anyone from the High Plains who doesn’t wholeheartedly favor the Water Plan. They look at the thousands of acres of luxuriant crops they grow with irrigaton—one-fifth of the United States’ cotton, one-quarter of its grain sorghum (which is fed to the regions’ one and a half million head of fed cattle), and significant amounts of wheat, corn, soybeans, and many other crops—and they come to the further conclusion that what is good for them is good for the whole world, hungry and poorly clothed as it always is. There is an undeniable truth in that argument. For a city-dweller to be indifferent to their problems is, at least in part, high-toned, urban snobbery which seems very pretentious when balanced against a simple lesson of history: no known civilization has developed without the previous establishment of a strong agricultural economy. If no farming, then no pyramids, no Renaissance, no Tristram Shandy, no rock and roll.

On the other hand, in spite of this agricultural miracle, the region still looks as flat and dry and brown as day-old toast. It is harsh, unrelenting land completely unrelieved by stream or gully


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