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YEARS OF EXPANSION (1950-1955)

For many years the Water Supply and Conservation Committee of the Chamber of Commerce has carried on continuing studies of the water situation in the area, realizing that an adequate water supply is essential to the continued growth of the community. Consumption has consistently outrun estimates. Consultants to the City of Houston in 1943 forecast a demand of 268,000,000 gallons of water per day by 1970. This demand was actually experienced just slightly more than 10 years later, in 1954.

The Chamber of Commerce has maintained an active interest in the water-supply problems of the area for more than 35 years. In an outstanding contribution to the literature on this subject, the Water Supply Committee in 1947 published a comprehensive appraisal of the then-current status of the water-supply situation in the Houston-Pasadena area; and, in less detail, the situation in the Katy, Baytown, and Galveston-Texas City areas. That report reviewed the entire background of Houstonís water-supply situation and brought into clear focus the results of a vast amount of study which had been done on this problem in the past.

Water is a subject of increasing concern to those involved in urban development-how to dispose of surplus water, and how to assure a long-range supply of good water for domestic and industrial purposes. Ancient wells, aqueducts and reservoirs are historic evidence of mankindís efforts to harness the waters of nature for his use. The steady rise in the consumption of water in industrially advanced countries has imposed heavy demands on water availabilities. Water supply is a complex matter, with legal, political and financing as well as engineering aspects.

The early leadership of Houston never suspected that the day would come when water would be considered a priority need. They saw an area with an average annual rainfall of almost 50 inches, with a ground-water potential that seemed to provide an inexhaustible resource, and a location within 100 miles of most of the water that runs off of the entire state of Texas. They could not anticipate the skyrocketing increases in the per capita use of water for domestic purposes, the unprecedented rate of population increase, the demands of processing industries for water, and the value of water for irrigation purposes. They could not foresee the problems that would result from surface subsidence due to the too rapid withdrawal of ground water.

Long before the man on the street gave a second thought to water-taking it for granted as long as he could turn a faucet and have it in abundance-the Houston Chamber of Commerce studied water-use trends and set up a water-supply committee. This committee was given the assignment for a continuing study of the water situation in the Houston area, of exploring various possibilities for supplying the growing needs, and of recommending to the Board of Directors the potential water needs for specified periods and what seemed to be the most feasible way to assure that these needs would be met.

Mason G. Lockwood summarized the situation in January, 1950, when he said: "We cannot go on indefinitely letting our rivers waste water into the sea while there is a steadily mounting economic necessity for more and more water along the coast. The upper Gulf Coast is one of those fortunate areas of adequate rainfall and plentiful sources of water supply. The problem is to develop these sources such as to make this plentiful supply available where needed. For amidst plenty, we actually have shortages. It has been shown that our future needs will be overwhelmingly greater as compared to past consumption. It is equally clear that these needs can be met, provided we choose to pay the price-a price, incidentally, which need not be unreasonable.

"The rivers and streams which flow into the Gulf from the Sabine to the Rio Grande are emptying from seven to ten times as much water into the sea as is being used for all purposes along the coastal plains. Rivers within 100 miles of Houston contribute nearly 80 percent of this. Or to be more specific, the streams from the Sabine to the Colorado, including those two, are wasting into the Gulf more than 25,000,000,000 gallons of water per day on the average.

For many years, Houston depended almost entirely upon ground water to supply its needs. This city has been fortunate in the fact that it is located atop one of the nationís three great underground water reservoirs. One of the most elusive factors, however, in Houstonís water problem has always been the extent to which ground water could be safely withdrawn without creating a serious subsidence problem. Thus, in 1943, the Chamber of Commerce urged immediate construction of a dam and reservoir on the San Jacinto River, to supply about 150,000,000 gallons daily for the Houston area. It required eleven years to bring this project into being, and the entire industrial allocation of 75,000,000 gallons daily was sold to existing industries months before the facilities were completed.

With the Houston area using water in 1954 at the rate which in 1943 had been forecast for 1970, the Water Supply Committee of the Chamber of Commerce undertook the task of re-estimating the future water requirements of the area, taking into account not only its yet-to-be-developed industrial potential, but also the probable growth of population. The committee concluded that while there were possibilities for a major increment of water supply from the San Jacinto River and from properly dispersed well fields, studies of a conservation-storage project on the Trinity River should be undertaken since that source offered the best possibility for Houstonís long-range water supply.

Because of the pressure on the City of Houston to finance a wide range of other public works, several years passedóafter the Chamber of Commerce had established the areaís long-range water needs in the 1954 and 1955 surveysóbefore actual steps were taken to carry out the recommendations for developing a major source of surface water on the Trinity River. In the meantime, proposals were before the Texas Legislature to create a Trinity River Authority for the ultimate development of this stream for multiple-purpose uses.

The efforts of the Houston Chamber of Commerce to preserve in this legislation the rights to buy water from the Trinity River at reasonable rates and to conduct such negotiations through regular state agencies caused upstream businessmen who were leading the effort for the full development of the Trinity to think that Houston was attempting to block their plans. It was not until several years later, through the intervention of Gail Whitcomb, that this doubt was removed. Under the leadership of President Ben C. Belt, the Chamber of Commerce succeeded in preserving these negotiating rights, but time was required for the Trinity advocates to be convinced that Houstonís plans would not, and were not intended to, interfere with their long-range plans.

During the last administration of Oscar Holcombe as Mayor, the City of Houston had a comprehensive study made to establish the feasibility of a dam and reservoir project on the Trinity River. Additional steps to carry out this plan were taken by the City of Houston during the administration of Mayor Lewis Cutrer. However, a water-rate increase to finance the project became a controversial political issue, and the steps to bring the project into being were delayed. In the meantime, legal efforts were used in an attempt to block the program. These were initiated by a few local taxpayers. With the election of Louie Welch as Mayor, the approach to the Trinity project changed direction, and the City of Houston entered into a contract with the Trinity River Authority to build the dam and reservoir in such a way as to insure the Houston area an adequate water supply for the next 50 years.

During 1965, the legal hurdles were overcome, and the financing of the project was arranged. Thus, when ground was broken for the Livingston Dam on November 13, 1965, the dreams of many people began to take tangible form, and the favorable competitive position of Houston in the difficult arena of industrial development was preserved. However, just as it has for almost a half century, the Water Supply Committee of the Chamber of Commerce is already starting studies of the water supply needs of the Houston area beyond the year 2000 and of the possibilities for meeting those needs.

For its entire 125 years, the Houston Chamber of Commerce has recognized the vital role that transportation plays in urban development. One of its first projects in 1840 was designed to improve Buffalo Bayou for transportation, and down through the years the organization has worked for improvement of waterways. The Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in getting the stateís first railroad operating in the Houston area, and it has continued its active interest in railroad services and rates. For almost 40 years, the Chamber of Commerce has worked to make Houston a center of air services.

But it is doubtful if any phase of its transportation efforts has equaled the combination of talent and man hours that have been devoted to work on improved roads, freeways, thoroughfares, streets, and off-street parking. The Highway Committee has long been one of the strongest and most active in the Chamber of Commerce. Its efforts started back in the split-log drag days of highway construction when the goal was to "get Texas out of the mud". Its efforts have continued and have been expanded from year to year.

It has been estimated from available studies that 95 percent of Houstonís population depend on passenger cars for transportation. It is essentially for this reason that the nationís sixth largest city is so freeway and highway conscious. Approximately one-sixth of our time is spent in vehicles on essential travelóand this is about two months out of each year, yet it does not include pleasure or recreational travel. It was not long ago when most work trips were driven into the heart of the city, but more recent national surveys show that only about one out of five work trips today moves toward the center of the city. From suburban areas, only about one trip in six heads downtown. Thus, not only the magnitude but also the distribution of travel has changed.

The need for highways, freeways, thoroughfares and streets will increase if meaning can be read into a number of significant factors. The two-car family has just about become a way of life. The population of the area is expected to double within the next 20 years, and this will probably quadruple traffic demands. The average household today generates from five to eight personal trips per day, and by 1980 the average will probably be 10 to 11. Work trips today account for about half of the total trips in an urban area with recreational travel about one-fifth. As work weeks become shorter and paid vacations become longer, this ratio will continue to change with the availability of free time for recreational travel.

The situation is even more complicated in Houston. Our low-density suburban areas produce an increasing and more widely scattered volume of cross-town travel. Our population is also highly automobile oriented, and the number of automobiles per unit of population is exceptionally high in Houston. All this means more use of our freeway and thoroughfare network, and all of it complicates the problem of providing a system of acceptable mass transit.

 

 

 


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