Most of us remember what we were doing the morning of September 11, 2001. This writer was on her way to the county court house ready to go into trial. I was representing an eighteen year old girl from Kansas who was charged with running drugs across the border. My trembling client and her bereft mother had traveled from Kansas for the big day.
But, as we waited for the jury to assemble, things changed. Planes had crashed into the world trade center towers. The buildings were burning. They fell. People were dying by the thousands. The trial was postponed. The court house closed. My client and her mother drove back to Kansas. The rest of us disbursed. Most of us went home and watched the horror on TV. Amidst all the tragedy, the endless hours of different talking heads giving their spin, there was at last a spot of local news.
A ticker running across the screen. A message from the mayor of El Paso. He told us that he had declared a water emergency and as a result we were to refrain from watering our yards. It was very difficult to connect the two events, a terrorist attack in New York City and an outdoor watering ban in El Paso, TX. We were confused. There was no other information from the mayor. The only thing we were told was that the trade center towers had fallen and therefore we could not water our gardens. And no one said anything.
That was one year, one month and eleven days ago. It was also the beginning of all of our water woes. The mayor was on to something.
In the Spring of 2002, city council passed a resolution directing the Public Service Board (PSB) to release fifty acres of land to be sold and developed. The mayor, who did not want the land released (he does not like those builders), vetoed that resolution and told city council that he could not sign that resolution because it would be illegal. He explained that it would be illegal because City Council had NO authority over the PSB and could not direct it to do ANYTHING. City Council shrugged its shoulders and went away. And no one said anything.
Two weeks later, there was one very small item buried in the middle of the agenda which stated that city council shall give the mayor the right to call for a water emergency, a right that heretofore belonged to the PSB as a WHOLE and not to any one individual. Now the mayor wanted all that power for himself and contrary to what he had said two weeks before, he was now saying that city council indeed had power over the PSB, so much power over it that it could take AWAY power from the board and vest it in the mayor. No one from council or the press questioned this contradiction on the part of the mayor. In fact, no one said a thing.
The mayor told us on TV, with a very straight face, that eight months after September 11, he alone needed power over our water supply because of possible terrorist attacks. Charlie McNabb, the mayor’s executive assistant, said that the mayor was seeking this unprecedented power over the water because on September 11, they had received a call from the governor’s office that had received a call from the Whitehouse saying that there was a possible threat to our water supply. No one had heard this before.
This writer then called the governor’s office. She spoke to the governor’s press secretary and also to the head of the criminal justice division who is also head of the homeland security division now. Both of these men were working for the governor of Texas on September 11, 2001 and neither of them knew of any threats to the water nor of any calls to the El Paso mayor warning of threats to our water supply on that day.
This writer then called Charlie McNabb in the mayor’s office to ask him WHO, specifically, from the governor’s office, had called the mayor’s office regarding this very serious terrorist threat to our water supply. McNabb could not remember who had called from the governor’s office. He could not remember if it was a man or a woman. He could not remember if it was the governor himself. And no, there was no log of that very important call.
This information was made public and as a result, the terrorist attack idea fell a little flat and the mayor had to go back to the drawing board. But still no one said anything.
Then the mayor and his favorite water boy, Ed Archuleta, told us about the “drought”. “Drought” now THAT’s the ticket. If you listen closely, there is not really a drought but we should pretend there is a drought, because there might really be a drought in the future. So since there could be a drought, and there should be a drought, the mayor needs to have more control over the water. Then the mayor and Archuleta told us that they would raise the price of water because it is too cheap (never mind that thousands every month had their water cut off during the summer heat because of inability to pay), and they passed “Phase I” of the drought measure even though there is no drought, with “Phase II” to go into effect in the Spring. The impending doom of a possible drought and words like Phase I and Phase II sound very good, very official and very real. And who is going to say anything?
There is nothing like the age old recipe of creating a little public hysteria while trying to grab power. If you refuse to believe that our water supply in El Paso has been threatened by terrorists, then surely you’ll believe that there might be a drought in eight months. And while you are waiting for the sky to fall, the mayor has sucked up control over our most precious resource. The question then becomes, is it a good idea to have ONE man control all the water in the middle of the desert? The person who controls the water controls all building (and we know the mayor does not like those builders), all permits, 10,000 construction jobs, affordable housing and basically every aspect of the economy and human life. What will happen to us when a mayor wakes up and decides to push the red button and the 10,000 workers have to stay at home and the price of a basic dwelling goes up and you cannot water your petunias or take a shower in the afternoon or get a building permit and no businesses want to come because of the fact that there is “a water emergency?” Well, by then, our throats will be too parched to say anything.