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President And Politicians Rally Community For West, Texas

Ryan Poppe
TPR News

Officials are still trying to pin down who is responsible for the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, but national and state politicians attended a tribute to urge a national sense of community. Also on this show: The Geroge W. Bush Library was dedicated this week, which is bringing up conversation about the meaning of the former president's legacy. As Texas continues to cope with drought conditions, residents who depend on rivers like the San Saba are battling agriculture interests for water rights. The U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on the cross-border Texas-Oklahoma water war.

Memorial For West Victims Filled With Uniformed Tribute

On Thursday Thousands in Waco mourned the 10 first responders who died in the fire and explosion of a fertilizer plant in the town of West.  Family, friends and supporters were quietly moved by the speakers, but loudly embraced President Obama, there with the First Lady.

KERA Dallas public radio reporter Bill Zeeble was there.

Who is to blame? The company, or regulators?

It’s estimated that the explosion in West did over $100 million in damages and it’s not yet clear who is liable for that. Some say it falls to the owners of the West Fertilizer plant, which stored the volatile chemicals that exploded, and there is a growing paper trail of apparent negligence.

Others say the regulators are at fault for not doing a better job of keeping tabs on the fertilizer company, even after failed inspections and other violations.

Keith Wrightson is a worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen. He says it’s still yet to be determined who’s to blame, but a lack government oversight and weak regulation played a role in the deadly explosion.

"There's problems with every system of controls, that's for sure, but there's no doubt that rules and guidance can help mitigate these problems and steer us from horrible situations such as this."

Also on this edition of Texas Matters:

President on president

Also on Thursday the George W. Bush Presidential library was dedicated in Dallas. The two-term former president was honored by four living fellow former presidents, including his father.

As per tradition, the sitting president, Barack Obama, was there also and praised his predecessor.

"The truth is our club is more like a support group. The last time we all got together was just before I took office and I needed that, because as each of these leaders will tell you, no matter how much you may think you are ready to assume the office of the presidency, it is impossible to truly understand the nature of the job until it's yours - until you are sitting at that desk. That's why every president gains a greater appreciation for all of those who served before them. For the leaders from both parties who've taken on the momentous challenges and felt the enormous weight of the nation on their shoulders, and for me that appreciation very much extends to President Bush."

Four minutes of heaven

The Bush presidency certainly saw its share of challenges as we hear in an audio montage from KUT reporter Nathan Bernier: "8 years of the George W. Bush Presidency in less than 4 minutes."

Live at the dedication

James Hohmann is the national political reporter for Politico.com. He covered the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas.

"It really is an opportunity for George Bush to rehabilitate his image, to introduce himself on his terms. I think every president gets a second look from voters at some point. A new poll shows approval ratings about 47 percent, up from 33 percent when he left office."

A river runs through it

The San Saba River is far from a mighty river. It’s located in Central Texas along the northern edge of the Edwards Plateau and it drains into the Texas Colorado River – or at least it does when it doesn’t go dry, which happens more and more frequently.

This happens so often that the San Saba was recently named one of the most endangered rivers in the nation by the conservation group American Rivers.

The group ranked the San Saba River third on the list for the most endangered rivers and says it’s threatened by excessive water use by landowners and irrigators. This is putting the hurt on downstream ranchers like Griff Thomas.

"The river has always been dependable, even in tough times. It's a spring-fed river that never stops running until about the last decade, where the withdraw of water upriver from us now takes more water than the river can afford to lose and the river quits running. As far as anybody knows in recorded history and geology data, the river has run for forever. Even during the 1950s drought the river didn't stop running."

Supreme Court Wades Into Texas-Oklahoma Water War

Water is also a point of friction between Texas and our northern neighbor Oklahoma. On Tuesday the cross-state water skirmish went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As KERA's Shelley Kofler reports, the State of Oklahoma and the Tarrant Regional Water District in Fort Worth are arguing over water rights.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi