Rick Perry is busy campaigning across the country, generating headlines for giving Mitt Romney the evil eye, proposing a flat tax, and calling opponent Herman Cain “brother.” But back home in Texas, his state is dry, cracked and at times burning during a drought that “is likely to be one of the ten costliest natural disasters in recent U.S. history.” Richard Parker argues that “Texans need our governor back home. Now:”
“The scale of this drought is nothing short of colossal. It is the worst one-year drought in over 100 years of record-keeping, according to John Nielsen-Gammon, the state meteorologist in College Station. A landscape the size of Connecticut has been blackened by fire; the recent Bastrop fires created a plume of smoke so massive it looked like an atomic weapon had been detonated south of Austin. Ranchers drive thirsty cattle to water—only to watch them bloat up and die from drinking too fast. Forced to sell herds early, they are incurring billions in losses and losing the very DNA of their livestock, forcing them to start from scratch next season if they can afford it.
It is the drought’s economic damage, however, that is now beginning to uncoil like a rattlesnake in the tall grass. Officially, direct agricultural losses have amounted to $5 billion. But Ray Perryman, one of the most respected economists in Texas, told me that direct losses will mount to about $7 billion before this year is even over. And the damage by no means stops there; ranchers and farmers are insured for some losses—but often highly leveraged. Perryman estimates that the multiplier effect—farm equipment, seed, fuel, consumer products not purchased as a result—will bring the indirect losses to a staggering $24.5 billion when 2011 draws to a close.”
But Perry has yet to demonstrate the ability to create rain (though not for wont of trying). If he did come home what good would it do?
“…He could find ways to better help both farmers and businesses deal with the current drought. The state has drafted a statewide water plan and is even considering amending the Texas Constitution to issue $4.2 billion in state bonds to finance more water projects. Voters will be deciding on the issue next month and, without the bonds, the state water board claims it cannot afford to provide additional financing “to meet water and wastewater infrastructure needs of Texas.” Perry could come home and advocate for the amendment to pass. And he could even go a step further and become a regional leader on water issues in the Southwest, where population growth is booming and water supplies are in decline.”
Perry’s existing record on water isn’t a particularly laudable one. A lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund in Texas tells Ben Philpott of KUT News that while Perry hasn’t blocked any important water legislation, other aspects of his energy policies have ignored the state’s water needs:
“Many of his pro-industry stances, for example his fast-tracking of coal plants, don’t really take the impacts of other resources into consideration,” Amy Hardberger said. “For example, the building of a new power plant has a huge water footprint.”
So it’s not clear that if Perry did return to Texas to deal with the drought it would do any good. Depending on how the campaign goes, it may be awhile before we get to find out.