Archive for December 2016

Tom Brady’s Complaint

December 2, 2016

The Dripping Springs wastewater discharge permit is now before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which will determine whether or not to grant the permit and allow discharge into Onion Creek, an environmentally sensitive Hill Country stream. The issues with that course of action have been discussed here, here, and here, reviewing and highlighting the many fiscal, societal and environmental factors which rationally would be brought to bear on such a decision. If TCEQ holds to form, however, very little of that will actually have any bearing on the decision. Rather, the decision would hinge pretty exclusively on whether Dripping Springs has conformed to a process and has presented a plan of action that TCEQ deems would meet the wastewater treatment standards that TCEQ has chosen to impose. Standards which seem to be limited by that process, and so have been called to question as being equal to protecting water quality in Onion Creek.

Which takes us to Tom Brady’s complaint. The NFL succeeded in depriving the New England Patriots quarterback of four games out of his career pretty much completely on the basis of “process”. Similarly to the manner in which TCEQ will review the Dripping Springs permit, the legal review of Brady’s case centered on whether the process fell within the nominal bounds of the agreement between the NFL and the players’ association. The NFL was never required to produce any objective proof that what Brady was accused of participating in – underinflating footballs he used in a playoff game – ever even happened! (Anyone who actually understands the Ideal Gas Law will attest to that.) Thus Tom Brady’s complaint is that he was “judged” and “convicted” with no proof of wrong-doing having been required by the controlling institutions empowered to rule on the propriety of the NFL’s decision.

Before proceeding, I hasten to note that this is not a “fandom” thing. Indeed, anyone who knows me knows I’m a diehard Green Bay Packers fan, no fan of the Patriots. While I respect Brady’s abilities and accomplishments, this is not about the man, this is about the level at which we allow our society to “function”.

To the point here. The “machinery” of society sits still for this matter being executed at the level of “process”, pretty much devoid of substance, in an arena so central to the American psyche as football. What hope is there, then, for meaningful pushback against similarly ignoring the actual impacts on society, subsuming them to “process”, in an arena that most people don’t want to ever even think about – what happens to their wastewater after they flush the toilet?

The “Tom Brady’s complaint” of anyone who has chosen to consider the actual fiscal, societal and environmental factors surrounding Dripping Springs’ approach to wastewater management is that the controlling institutions who will permit that strategy will not take most of that into account. As noted, the decision will be based only on conformance to a “process”, rather than on a consideration of actual causes, effects, and outcomes. Thus, just as Tom Brady was afforded no forum for a consideration of the factual basis for what he was accused of participating in, the deflation of footballs, local society has no forum for the review of those fiscal, societal and environmental impacts, no way to bring them to light, to be prudently and factually considered.

In particular, TCEQ will absolutely not require any showing that the infrastructure model Dripping Springs is dead set on pursuing is the “best” way for them to proceed, by any measure. That infrastructure model – a conventional centralized wastewater system, routing flows from miles around to one point – is the whole predicate for even considering a discharge, so in a way is the whole problem here. Indeed, that model entails a number of fiscal, societal and environmental liabilities, as have been reviewed here, so reconsidering that infrastructure model could offer many benefits to Dripping Springs and its citizens and development clients.

But the TCEQ process allows Dripping Springs to utterly ignore all those fiscal, societal and environmental factors, that a thinking person would consider central to any such far-reaching decision. And indeed it is far-reaching. Once Dripping Springs commits to extending and perpetuating the prevailing 19th century centralized infrastructure model, that will cement into place for generations to come a mode of management that will hamstring efforts to move local society toward sustainable water. It will instead “institutionalize” the low water use efficiency that is characteristic of that 19th century model.

It appears that all the machinery of society will sit blandly by and allow this “triumph” of process over substance. No one appears much interested in lobbying TCEQ to broaden the scope of what would be deemed important to consider. Not downstream interests, not the affected citizenry – who will be financing the city’s overpriced strategy – and not the “leadership” of society, such as local legislators and city and county officials.

So, being empowered to blindly follow their mental model, never being even asked, much less compelled, to question its underpinning – that is, to actually examine those fiscal, societal and environmental factors – Dripping Springs is being allowed to close out a major avenue to deep conservation. Recall that is defined (here) as water use efficiency that is “built in” to the water infrastructure model, that will deliver that efficiency just as a matter of course, year after year. Losing this opportunity to attain deep conservation will be a disservice to local and regional society.

Again, as long as all concerned simply sit by and allow these matters to be considered solely on the basis of a “process” that ignores the underlying facts on the ground, we will all suffer Tom Brady’s complaint – a “sentence”, in this case on society, will be carried out without ever having considered the things that really matter. In Brady’s case, whether any “crime” actually happened; in ours, whether we will proceed to develop in a manner that moves us ever further away from sustainable water – and be more costly and more environmentally problematic.

With apologies to Steve Earle, I guess this is just America V 6.0, “It’s the best that we can do.”