West Texas Up in Arms Over Bid to Sell State-Owned Water

Water may be scarce in West Texas, but emotions are flowing freely over an insider deal that would allow politically powerful oil tycoons from Midland to sell billions of gallons of water from state-owned reserves. The deal was cut in secret between Rio Nuevo Ltd. — made up of eight oil entrepreneurs — and the Texas General Land Office, which controls 20 million acres of public land and the resources beneath them. Rio Nuevo plans to pump and sell some 16 billion gallons of water per year to local governments and ranchers in the parched western part of the state; residents of the region fear that their own wells will go dry as a result. The company claims the deal will provide about $7 million for schools through a fund managed by the land office, while opponents decry the backroom nature of the agreement and worry about the potential threat to the state’s water resources and the ecosystems that depend on them.