Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Water: Boone Pickens has big plans

Update: For info on the "Pickens Plan" for wind power and energy, see our July 9, 2008 post, "T. Boone Pickens on America's energy". Thanks!

You might have heard about T. Boone Pickens' plan to capitalize on the South's growing water needs by transporting Ogallala Aquifer water to growing towns and urban areas via pipeline.

But did you know that Pickens' planned water infrastructure will be pieced together using eminent domain laws?

Bloomberg reports on the move to create a water supply district housed on eight acres of Roberts County ranchland that was deeded to Pickens' ranch manager.

The land in Roberts County, a stretch of ranchland outside Amarillo, holds no oil. Instead, it is central to Pickens's plan to create an agency to condemn property and sell tax-exempt bonds in the search for one of his other favorite commodities: water.

Approval of the district is all but certain when Texans vote today in state and local elections. By law, only the two people who actually live on the eight acres will be allowed to vote --the manager of Pickens's nearby Mesa Vista ranch and his wife. The other three owners, who will sit on the district's board, all work for Pickens.

Pickens ``has pulled a shenanigan,'' said Phillip Smith, a rancher who serves on a local water-conservation board. ``He's obtained the right of eminent domain like he was a big city. It's supposed to be for the public good, not a private company.''

Pickens and his allies say no shenanigans are involved. Once the district is created, the board will be able to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance construction of Pickens's planned 328-mile, $2.2 billion pipeline to transport water from the panhandle across the prairie to the suburbs of Dallas and San Antonio.

There's lots more detail and local view in the Houston Chronicle's story on the subject. Be sure to check that out as well, if you have an interest in this story.

As both stories point out, tensions over water use and rights are increasing in America, as parched southern and western areas are eyeing distant sources for their water supply needs.

Water scarcity is a huge global concern as well, with many forecasting increased tensions and fighting over water resources in the years to come.

Pickens' plan to transport water to growing areas seems to fulfill the market demand for the much needed resource, but it does so at a cost. Conservationists are worried about the toll water pumping will take on the Ogallala Aquifer. One also has to wonder how Texas' "right of capture" laws have contributed to the race for landowners to pump and sell water.

And the objections to Pickens' and Mesa Water company's ability to use eminent domain laws to buy right of way for their water and wind power pipeline?

Well, to me that just throws another beam of light on the idea behind eminent domain laws and the assumption that takings of property are justified if they are shown to be in the "public interest". How does one properly define "public" versus "private" interest? That's a whole kettle of fish in itself.

For more on Boone's dealings, see Bloomberg's recent interview with Pickens in their "Hedge Hunters" series.