1993, Murray Rothbard wrote on the Texas water problem, explaining
how the government policy was on a disastrous course that could
lead to massive drought. That day has finally arrived.
We all know
how the environmentalists, seemingly determined at all costs to
save the spotted owl, delivered a crippling blow to the logging
industry in the North west. But this slap at the economy may be
trivial compared to what might happen to the lovely city of San
Antonio, Texas, endangered by the deadly and despotic combination
of the environmentalist movement and the federal judiciary.
The sole source
of water for the 900,000-resident city, as well as the large surrounding
area, is the giant Edwards Aquifer, an underground river or lake
(the question is controversial) that spans five counties. Competing
for the water, along with San Antonio and the farms and ranches
of the area, are two springs, the Comal and the Aquarena on the
San Marcos River, which are becoming tourist attractions. In May
1991, the Sierra Club, along with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority,
which controls the two springs, filed a suit in federal court, invoking
the Endangered Species Act. It seems that, in case of a drought,
any cessation of water flow to the two springs would endanger four
obscure species of vegetables or animals fed by the springs: the
Texas blind salamander; Texas wild rice; and two tiny brands of
fish: the fountain darter, and the San Marcos gambusia.
1, 1993, federal district judge Lucius Bunton, in Midland, Texas,
handed down his ruling in favor of the Sierra Club; in case of drought,
no matter the shortage of water hitting San Antonio, there will
have to be enough water flowing from the aquifer to the two springs
to preserve these four species. Judge Bunton admitted that, in a
drought, San Antonio, to obey the ruling, might have to have its
water pumped from the aquifer cut by as much as 60 percent. This
would clobber both the citizens of San Antonio, and the farmers
and ranchers of the area; man would have to suffer, because human
beings are always last in line in the environmentalist universe,
certainly far below wild rice and the fountain darter.
Mayor Nelson Wolff was properly incensed at the judge’s ruling.
"Think about a world where you are only allowed to take a bath
twice a week," exclaimed the mayor. "Think about a world
where you have to get a judge’s permission to irrigate your crops."
John W. Jones,
president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association,
graphically complained that the judge’s decision "puts the
protection of Texas bugs before Texas babies."
How did the
federal courts horn into the act anyway?
if the Edwards Aquifer were ruled a "river," then it would
come under the jurisdiction of the Texas Water Commission rather
than of the federal courts. But last year, a federal judge in Austin
ruled that the aquifer is a "lake," bringing it under
oppose production and use of natural resources. Federal judges seek
to expand federal power. And there is another outfit whose interest
in the proceedings needs scrutinizing: the governmental Guadalupe-Blanco
River Authority. In addition to the tourist income it wishes to
sustain, there is another, hidden and more abundant source of revenue
that may be animating the Authority.
was raised by Cliff Morton, chairman of the San Antonio Water System.
Morton said that he believed that the Authority would, during a
drought, direct the increased spring flow into a reservoir, and
then sell to beleaguered San Antonio at a high price the water the
city would have gotten far more cheaply from the aquifer. Is the
Authority capable of such Machiavellian maneuvering? Mr. Morton
thinks so. "That’s what this is all about," he warned
bitterly. "It’s not about fountain darters."
and other protesters are calling upon Congress to relax the draconian
provisions of the Endangered Species Act, but there seems to be
little chance of that in a Clinton-Gore administration.
solution, of course, is to privatize the entire system of water
and water rights in this country. All resources, indeed all goods
and services, are scarce, and they are all subject to competition
for their use. That’s why there is a system of private property
and free-market exchange. If all resources are privatized, they
will be allocated to the most important uses by means of a free
price system, as the bidders able to satisfy the consumer demands
in the most efficient ways are able to outcompete less able bidders
for these resources.
aquifers, and water in general, have been largely socialized in
this country, the result is a tangled and terribly inefficient web
of irrational pricing, massive subsidies, overuse in some areas
and underuse in others, and widespread controls and rationing. The
entire water system is a mess, and only privatization and free markets
can cure it.
the meanwhile, it would be nice to see the Endangered Species Act
modified or even – horrors! – repealed. If the Sierra
Club or other environmentalists are anxious to preserve critters
of various shapes or sizes, vegetable, animal, or mineral, let them
use their own funds and those of their bedazzled donors to buy some
land or streams and preserve them.
New York City
has recently decided to abolish the good old word "zoo"
and substitute the politically correct euphemism "wildlife
preservation park." Let the Sierra Club and kindred outfits
preserve the species in these parks, instead of spending their funds
to control the lives of the American people.
N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and chief academic
officer of the Mises Institute.
He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor. See