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Texas Water Not Oil Is Gold*

April 16, 2001

For Texas Now, Water and Not Oil Is Liquid Gold


David Bowser for The New York Times

T. Boone Pickens, above, is proposing to pump water from underneath his Mesa Vista Ranch in Miami, Tex., to the highest bidder.

State Senator J. E. Brown favors encouraging private companies to sell water.

MIAMI, Tex. — The dirt road winds through the gray hills of T. Boone Pickens's sprawling Mesa Vista Ranch when an unlikely swath of green grass appears like an emerald in a sandbox. It is a lushly irrigated two-hole golf course, a playpen for a wealthy man, and a reminder that beneath this bleak, isolated terrain lies one of the prime untapped reserves of water in Texas.

And Mr. Pickens, the former oilman and corporate raider whose takeover bids once struck terror in boardrooms, has more in mind for the Mesa Vista than golf. At a time when nearly every major city in Texas is desperate for more water to meet runaway population growth, Mr. Pickens is proposing to pump tens of billions of gallons — to the highest bidder.


Water has become so valuable that a complicated scramble is under way for the rights to underground aquifers, reminiscent of the days when "land men," among them a young George W. Bush, solicited rural landowners to drill for oil. There are even "water ranches" popping up around the state.


Throughout the country, drought and population growth have placed a premium on water. Such demand is amplified in Texas after four droughts in five years. The state's population is 20.8 million, second only to California's, and demographers predict that it will double in 50 years. Already, El Paso must find new sources of water or it could run out in 20 years. The Rio Grande, a primary water source for counties along the Mexican border, is so dry that this month it failed for the first time in 50 years to reach the Gulf of Mexico, stopping 50 feet short

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