As Texas’ Drought Continues, City Tells Man His Cacti and Stones Aren’t ‘Historically Appropriate’

If you’d like a Cliffs Notes version of the water conservation debate in Texas, look no further than two stories the Morning News posted yesterday. The first is a blog post about conservation efforts:

With the state in the midst of one of its worst droughts in history, local water conservation advocates gathered Tuesday to talk about how to address the crisis.

“People create problems and solve problems,” said Trammell S. Crow, founder of Earth Day Dallas. “Consumers have to take the responsibility for water conservation.”

The group highlighted a report released by the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center calculating that potential water conservation could help Texas save 500 billion gallons of water per year. Among the measures is proposed were making agricultural irrigation more efficient, using more drought-tolerant plants in landscaping and repairing leaky water mains. Other speakers who gathered at Winfrey Point on White Rock Lake agreed that building new reservoirs and pipelines, which Austin policymakers are considering funding, is not the answer to Texas’ water challenges.

And the second is about Burton Knight, a Junius Heights resident who — in an effort to conserve water — ripped out his lawn and replaced it with cacti and stones:

But Knight’s project ran afoul of the city’s Landmark Commission, which oversees development in designated historic districts. Commissioners told him this month that cactuses aren’t historically appropriate. Also unpopular was the border of jagged stones that Knight installed. Mostly, however, the commissioners really wanted a lawn. Rip out the rocks and lay down some nice, green sod, the city said, and you’ll have that familiar — and approvable — Junius Heights look.

For Knight, rising water needs and a hotter, drier Texas as a result of global warming make up the state’s most urgent environmental crisis. He said his case suggests that the cultural norms that earned Dallas a reputation as a water hog are still deeply entrenched.

“How can you say that cactus is not historic?” asked Knight, who has a horticulture degree from Texas A&M University. “Guess what crop has the greatest consumption of time, energy, water and chemicals? Turf grass.”

Cacti aren’t “historically appropriate”? Using the last 80 years as a bar, maybe that’s true. But the millennia that came before would beg to differ.