Two recent stories brought the rights of well drillers and well owners into stark relief.
What is the responsibility of the well drilling and water systems professions to the environment? Where do the rights of one homeowner begin and end, particularly in a time of water scarcity?
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s running for governor next year, got criticized by liberal media outlets recently for having a well drilled on his property to supply water for his lawn. That, in itself, isn’t controversial. What makes it questionable for some is that Texas is in the middle of what many experts suggest is a new “Drought of Record.” Texas uses a drought from the mid-20th century as the baseline for measuring all other droughts.
What Abbott did isn’t illegal. Far from it. He secured a permit and paid a driller and got an irrigation system. But critics question why he would bypass water restrictions in Austin in a time of scarcity. Texas isn’t yet in a historic drought, but Austin Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros told the city council there: “This is not your father’s drought, this is not even your grandfather’s drought.”
Compare this to Sandersville, Ga. The Superior Court of Washington County, where Sandersville sits, recently ruled against the small, 6,000-person city, calling a law it passed banning well drilling in the city unconstitutional. Sandersville had banned water well drilling for residents with access to the city’s public water supply.
Austin has since cracked down on tapping the aquifer underneath it. City leaders recognize the scarcity. Two reservoirs that supply the area, Lake Buchannan and Lake Travis, have seen their lowest inflows in the last five years than any five-year period since 1942, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority, which manages the area’s water. Abbott, and several of his neighbors, just did what they needed to do to maintain what they have. It’s their right.
Sandersville tried to crack down, but a court rebuffed it. A driller there, Rabun Frost, challenged the law with property owner Donald Ashley. A court weighed Ashley’s individual liberty versus the needs of the many. The needs of the many didn’t measure up. Abbott made the same call.
Water is a sensitive topic. For the 21st century, it might just be the most sensitive topic. Oil had a century to itself. Petroleum issues are still important, of course. Tough as it may be, though, human life would manage without oil. There’s no managing without water.
Of course, I’m not saying Abbott and Ashley caused global water issues. We all act out of self interest. We’re all human.
But I do want to pose the question: Where does it stop? Where do we end and our neighbors begin? If my access to water means someone else doesn’t have it, is that right?
Water well drillers need to think hard about these issues. In the United States alone, we withdraw more than 80 billion gallons of groundwater a day. (That’s a 2005 figure; it’s likely much more now.) Drillers and other water professionals have a responsibility to provide that resource, and to safeguard it for the future. It’s easier said than done. For example, as a driller, would you have turned down Abbott’s job? A guy on the phone who wants to pay thousands for a well? Of course you’re going to drill it. And no one would blame you.
But as an industry, it’s a discussion we all need to have. Does my ability to have a drink stop at the bottom of your cup?
I’m interested in your thoughts. This discussion is bigger than one editorial, so send rants, raves and ideas to email@example.com.
Stay safe out there, drillers.