The Grand Prairie irrigation boondoggle is finally getting some closer inspection from legislators. A citizen blogger files this report.
The Legislative Council voted today to require an independent review of the current cost estimate for this project. As you know, Soil and Water has been using a 1995 estimate in describing this as a $319 million project. Also, it admitted today that it doesn’t know how much the project will actually cost and thus the amount that farmers eventually are charged for this water could increase beyond the $26 per acre foot that the first group of contracts was based on. About 20 percent of the farmers have contracts for $26 per acre foot and there seemed to be a consensus that this price will probably be low. If it is, either the remaining 80 percent will be forced to pay more for the water (How much no one knows) or the taxpayers will pay the difference.
The state match is financed with general obligation bonds and if the farmers don’t pay, the taxpayers are on the hook. Percy Malone made a good point that Soil and Water usually won’t finance a project unless you have a sufficient number of customers agreeing to participate to assure repayment. Here, they don’t have but 20 percent signed up, yet they have committed a large amount of state money to this project. In the meantime, they don’t have enough bonding authority for other water and sewer projects because they’ve committed so much to irrigation projects.
There was some discussion about other alternatives to this big ditch and dam approach (get International Paper out of the Sparta, add more on-farm conservation, buy farm land to take it out of production thus reducing demand for water etc.). All of these could potentially reduce withdrawal rates from the aquifers to a safe yield level. Someone said that the project as proposed would cost around $2,000 per acre to build. For that kind of money, you could just buy the land and set it aside for recreation.