A Texas conservation board will next week decide how to distribute millions of dollars from a brush-clearing program that aims to boost water supplies in the drought-stricken state.
Ranchers could qualify for state funds if they clear shrubs and trees from their land. The program was developed in 2011 after lawmakers ordered the State Soil and Water Conservation Board to make saving water a priority.
Large-scale brush-clearing "is a cornerstone solution for water supply issues in Texas," said Rex Isom, the board's executive director. The board will decide Monday how to disburse the funds.
The program has drawn opposition from environmentalists, property owners and academics who say it is misguided, and could lead to large scale soil erosion and no extra water, the Austin American-Statesman reported this week (http://bit.ly/1npGj0O ).
"We fundamentally disagree with the plan's underlying tenet that brush management is a viable strategy for increasing water supplied from Texas rangelands," Brad Wilcox, a range management scientist at Texas A&M University, wrote to the board. His letter is co-signed by seven other A&M researchers.
"The scientific evidence is overwhelming that shrub control will not increase water supply in Texas," Wilcox wrote. "We believe the plan as currently designed is a poor use of taxpayer money and we recommend that it not go forward."
That position is a shift from conventional wisdom since the 1960s that clearing shrubs and trees would save water, Steve Nelle told the Austin American-Statesman. Nelle is a retired, range management conservationist with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.
He said the university's findings suggest that mismanaged brush control would lead to water running off the land.