The Norman Transcript

January 14, 2013

New facility not needed


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

At the Jan. 8 city council meeting, developers went to twisting arms, insinuating threats and persuading council members to move forward on the North Water Reclamation Facility. They succeeded. The motion committing $250,000 for design and engineering services was passed 7-2.

The proposed $100 million treatment plant, with its 4.5 million gallons per day (mgd) capacity, is now closer to construction. Why are the developers and their pocket council members so persistent on this?

The agricultural lands north and west of town currently are occupied by small farms, ranches and acreages. Most of these areas fall under “Very Low-Density Residential” or anther rural designation. Intense development is not allowed, so there is limited impact on the environment.

However, developers are making strides toward rezoning these areas for higher-density suburbs and commercial developments. Why? More profitable retail playgrounds and PUDs, of course. Their business model is to replace floodplains, wetlands and watersheds with the ancillary feats of environmental engineering and taxpayer-funded reclamation projects.

This type of growth and over-development is a primary cause of the water crisis. Every new acre of impervious surface calls for an engineered solution to corral the natural flow of water into rejoining the water cycle via the “path of most resistance.”

The engineered solutions like the ones NWRF developers have been lobbying for will only make matters worse. Even the developers should be concerned that their vision of growth is nothing less than the gradual annihilation of the natural environment.

Under pressure from state agencies and environmental groups, City leaders have made gestures toward counteracting the destruction by supporting efforts to slow the growth in key areas to a more controllable speed. Developers respond by claiming the city hasn’t squared up on past debts going back for a decade.

It’s like a bookie pulling a shakedown, but instead of breaking thumbs, they’re insinuating threats of electioneering schemes and lawsuits. If the city won’t allow them to build whatever they want, wherever they please, they say they’ll just “take their business elsewhere.”

Let them try. Can they find another city that will tolerate their hostile business model or one that isn’t facing water shortages?

Norman is waking up to the water crisis. Developers have even co-opted the issue to give weight to their rhetoric. They actually suggest a NWRF is necessary to prevent Norman from running out of water. Sounds like a bad joke, but these are the arguments they’re using. They’ll also speak in terms of voter mandates.

Why? They need the voters to think it’s a legitimate expense of taxpayer funds, not just another subsidy for speculation, land grabs and luxury PUDs (which it actually is).

While every council member will pay lip service to water quality issues, few will go against the development agenda. It is disturbing to see city officials buying into the deluded idea of an infinite frontier without scarcity.

What makes them do it? Unlike the small farms and ranches in the floodplains, it is impossible for PUDs and strip malls to peacefully coexist with nature. They destroy it. The magic of technology cannot resolve the problem and produce water ex nihilo.

The problem of scarcity cannot be engineered away. Piping in water to augment the Lake’s supply is a temporary, technological fix lobbied for by development interests so they can grow their profits for another year. Technological solutions cannot replace the natural processes destroyed by sprawl and overdevelopment.

Our watersheds and floodplains must remain off limits. These scarce resources are vital to replenishing reservoirs and keeping our waterways in good health. Citizens, council members, city planners and community groups should strongly oppose rezoning and reclamation projects that accelerate the same destructive development trends that have exhausted the carrying capacity of our land and water.

This crisis is not the invention of alarmists. We are running out of water. Mandatory conservation will go into effect this month. Lake levels are lower than most can recall ever seeing it. All the more reason why sensitive areas like wetlands, watersheds, and floodplains must remain our top priority for conservation.

Casey Holcomb

Norman

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