Sunday, July 12, 2009

Longterm Water

Water was on the city council agenda again last Tuesday. We have been covering the local water issues and made information available here since we started about 5 years ago. Water has been an issue for San Angelo and the surrounding area from the beginning. Fort Concho was built at its present location because of the junction of the various Concho River junctions. San Angelo became the county seat of Tom Green county because water, in the form of a flood, destroyed Ben Ficklin, the former county seat. Water gave San Angelo its start. San Angelo has needed a water strategy from the start.

The Standard times gave a pretty good history of the City's long term water strategy back in 2008 but a few additional points need to be made. First, we need to remember how all this is going to get paid for. In 2001, an increase to the water rate lasting 25 years was added to pay for 4 projects with an estimated total of $156 million. It has already paid for 2” main replacement, treatment plant upgrades, and the Twin Buttes gate repairs, with roughly $116 million remaining to pay for developing a long term water supply. In addition, $20 million from the last ½ cent sales tax was promised to aid development of a long term water source. The sales tax money has paid for most of the testing and development carried out so far. There have been attempts to get some grants and other aid, but the reality is that most of this project is going to be paid for by sales tax money and our water bill. There really aren't a lot of choices. This project is far enough along that we probably should take a good look at how we are using our 4B sales tax money and put more of it into developing water sources instead of projects that are much less critical to the health and survival of our community. We need to back to the voters and ask them if they want us to extend the sales tax to help complete this project. Spend more of the sales tax money on fundamentals.

The other point we need to keep in mind is that water is a regional problem. San Angelo's economy is very dependent on the health of the surrounding economies. Whether it's agriculture, oil, ASU, Goodfellow, or just retail sales, most of our trade is local. If the Eden, El Dorado, or Ozona economies have the sniffles, San Angelo's economy will catch a cold. If we are serious about having a healthy economy, we need to help our neighbors keep their economies healthy, and water is a key factor in the economic health of the region. More than that, San Angelo needs to be a good regional neighbor. Not that long ago, San Angelo was seen as a water bully. Some questionable tactics were used to try and get water rights. This led to expensive law suits, and the introduction of a water master to the area. The policy at that time amounted to “water for San Angelo, no matter what happens to anyone else.” We have outgrown that policy, but the bad memories linger on.

There are even more fundamental reasons to make our water system part of a regional solution. First, from a purely economic perspective, the cost per gallon of water can go down. Our current treatment plant can handle 2 to 3 times our current demand. Spread the fixed costs of a system to more customers, and the cost per customer goes down. There could be other savings because of volume buying and economies of scale. Additionally, a regional system can also increase the long term stability and reliability of the entire water system. We are already getting most of our water from O. H. Ivie, which is almost 50 miles away. The Hickory well field will require at least 60 miles of pipe. Our local lakes would have trouble supplying us with the roughly 15,000 acre feet we currently use each year. In 50 years, we will probably need double that amount of water, which will be close to the capacity of all the water sources we are currently developing. Our neighbors will be in the same situation. If we are part of a regional solution that has access to the water within at least 100 miles, all of us, including our neighbors, should still be in good shape.

It's good to see city government doing some long term thinking about something as important as water. More needs to be done, and they need to expand that into regional thinking.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Notes on the Tea Party

Some thoughts on today's TEA Party: let me throw in some observastions and I will declare openly; I have been a Republican as long as I remember, but I have never been embarrassed to call my Party out when it errs.

I will say, today's TEA Party was a huge difference from the last. It can actually be described as somewhat non-partisan, where the last was, honest, a thinly disguised Republican cheerleading session. Mind you, nothing wrong with a little turn-out-the vote cheeerleading, but do me the favor of not lying to me about it. I am confident that the T-Party people are NOT lying, I had long discussions with them today. They went out of their way to change that from last time, I do not doubt the sincerity. Frankly some of these folks are rookies, they got co-opted by pros before they saw it coming. As the rock band WHO said, "We Won't Get Fooled Again".

I am not the only long-term Republican looking at other options. I am not going to "out" anyone without express permission, but there are some local Republican heavy hitters who are at least listening to the Libertarians or whomever.

Now, to what I wanted to say today but the Mike time was limited: those of us of my age will remember Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, Republican. When LBJ wanted the Civil Rights Act of 1965 he, who had been mentored by another Texan, Sam Rayburn, counted the votes and thought "Oops". The solid South, then all Democrat was absolute 22-24 segregationist votes. LBJ called in Dirksen to do the heavy lifting in the Senate, and Dirksen agreed, not for credit, but because he was a true believer. And the two of them got it done

And people think Texas is a redneck state! Hah! I have my personal copy of election code, I will put our election laws against those of any state in the union and win that debate. I've been an election judge since 1992, I DEFY any state to show me a more fair, more open, more accessible election system. Been there, done that, on this I know whereof I speak.

The other thing Dirksen was famous for was a quote we still hear from time to time, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, we're talking serious money". Drop the "B" insert a TR, and that's what we are doing today.

Long have I toiled in the Republican vineyard, but the second Bush term left me feeling betrayed. Amongst the political trivia I collect; the last Clinton budget proposal presented to the House (and Constitutionally all spending bills MUST originate in the House; of course the White House has input, but the formal bill MUST originate in the House) originally had the usual Congressional Budget Office analysis of the numbers. Not that bad, for that year, BUT: it was redacted and I only saw it due to a Freedom of Information Act Request. At that time, CBO, and these are bean counters whose jobs are bullet-proof (unless they start behaving like Congressman, Senators and Governors and having affairs with foreign ladies or gentlemen at state expense), these people said in a three page addendum that at current projections, given entitlement spending (Medicaid, Soc Security, etc) by 2030 the average working stiff would be paying 87% income tax.

That is not a misprint. Eighty percent tax is not a fair tax, it is not really a tax. It is chattel wage-slavery, and is politically unsupportable. We would be well into pitchforks and torches time, and if I am still alive, I hope to have the local pitchfork-sharpening and torch-fuel concession.

Nothing in the last two years has improved that forecast. The best numbers I have show an increase of federal deficit of about $14.5 TRILLION in either direct debt or actuarilly anticipated incumbrance. Total national deficit, roughly $22 TRILLION. Our grandchildren will be paying this off and that is if we take the advice of the late William F Buckley and stand athwart history and holler "STOP!"! Oh, and I forgot Health Care, Gee another $10 Trillion that our grandchildrens' grandchildren will be paying

Do y'all remember the collapse of the USSR? We did not defeat them militarily, Reagan's wiseacre comment notwithstanding, we did not bomb Moscow; they went broke. Countries can go bankrupt: it's nasty and it hurts more people than Bernie Madoff dreamed of but it happens. Break this down to personal. When USSR went belly up, they had millions of workers who had been promised pensions, usually 150 or so Rubles a month. Nothing grand, but it would pay the rent on a chintzy apt and buy food. The new Russia has not defaulted on that obligation. What they did is called "Monetizing the debt". You still get the 150 Rubles, paid to the Kopeck: unfortunately, the Ruble has been devalued and that sum now buys one about a loaf of bread a month. And Vladimir Putin doesn't care which bridge you live under, he's busy hunting tigers or something. This has implications beyond what I have stated: Russia has the lowest life expectancy in the industrial world, they claim 66 years and I think they are lying.

Canned food: canned food and ammo to protect it and a hole to hide it all in. To quote the Addams Family Philosopher, young Wendy; be afraid, be very afraid.