Taming the Wild Neches River

August 20th, 2008

The Neches River runs from northeast Texas near Tyler 400+ miles to the Gulf of Mexico near Beaumont. Relatively untamed by reservoirs and human development, especially as it courses through the Big Thicket, the Neches today is perhaps the most politically important river in our state.

Dallas wants to build a reservoir on the Neches to satisfy its growing thirst (and Dallas recently received a big setback in its effort to build it).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many Neches-area residents want to designate a portion of the river as a National Wildlife Refuge (and judge recently stopped the NWR effort, at least until the 5th Circuit rules on the reservoir vs. refuge debate).

Meanwhile, some area residents have their own plans. Some want to turn riverside tree farms into private recreational areas, while others want to enhance eco-tourism along a pristine river.

It appears that the Neches brings up precisely the kind of water issues that will be confronting Texans statewide in the coming years:

  • When does a metro area’s need for drinking water supercede the need to protect wildlife and recreational uses of waterways?
  • When should private economic interests trump public and environmental interests?
  • What do we do with our limited water supplies when our needs for more water are growing faster than we can keep up with them?
  • How do we manage our limited water resources to meet the needs of as many Texans as possible?

These questions and others can be litigated, and they can be handled through the administrative processes of agencies like TCEQ.

But they will be best resolved through our representative democracy. Texas needs elected representatives with the commitment to sustainable water use to make good decisions about how we use our precious and limited water resources.

By 2040 there will be at least 40 million people in Texas. We’ve got to figure out how to divide our water resources so that there’s enough for everyone to drink, enough for recreational uses like fishing and boating, enough to sustain wildlife all the way along our waterways from the headwaters to the gulf….

The most important things conservationists in Texas can do to protect our water are to elect pro-conservation candidates to public office, and then to hold them to their promises to make sound decisions that provide for current and future needs for our water.

We will be watching elected officials whose districts include parts of the Neches watershed – including Senator Robert Nichols and Representative Chuck Hopson – and hoping they make sound decisions about protecting the Neches for all Texans. They have a chance to exhibit leadership here that can help Texas address our looming water issues statewide. And they have a chance to blow it completely.

Citizens and experts need to provide their advice and counsel to these officials so they have the best possible chance of making the right decisions.