"Watershed News" will have the dual mission of reporting the work of our volunteers and keeping you informed of the issues concerning land and water in the Wimberley Valley. Together, we are all working to protect Jacob's Well and the waters that make this place so beautiful.
is always a big topic for those of us at the blog, it has been a
particular busy couple of weeks for water in San Antonio. With a flurry
hall meetings, film sneak peaks and big announcements, we thought it
was time to catch up readers who may have missed the action.
SAWS’s Big Announcement
First, you might remember that San Antonio Water Systems (SAWS) was reviewing several
groundwater purchase proposals.
Throughout the process, concerns were raised about transparency and
whether the city really needed an additional 50,000 acre-feet of water.
Also, folks surrounding the
Val Verde county proposal area were very worried about what the long-term effects of the export.
On February 3rd, after a three year proposal and review process,
SAWS staff announced they
recommended shelving all of the project proposals. Instead, staff
recommended the further expansion of the brackish desalination project
to meet future water needs. While all of the details regarding
the decision haven’t come to light, one of the biggest concerns
appears to be tied to the inability of the companies to guarantee firm
yield. Although the connection wasn’t explicitly made at the meeting,
this is likely the result of uncertainty stemming
from recent groundwater legal decisions. The
reality is that these legal decision have created uncertainties
regarding the extent of local control over groundwater and no one wants
to be left holding the bag if no water is delivered.
The announcement was followed by celebration by some and
concern by others. Several business leaders sent a letter
asking for addition information regarding why such a long review process
was not followed by the selection of a project. They expressed concern
for the city’s water future and requested
a review of the projects and an open dialogue of what led to the
decision. Mayor Castro expressed his own uncertainty
about the decision. Hopefully this will lead the city to a larger
conversation about demand projections and additional conservation
Town Hall Meeting
The same day as the SAWS announcement, the Express News hosted a
Town Hall Meeting on water.
While much of the conversation focused on SAWS’ recent announcement, the
conversation was broader and ranged from water markets
to Prop 6 opportunities. Rep. Lyle Larson suggested
breaking down the balkanization of water planning and shifting thinking
about local water to seeing it as Texas water. All the panel
participants supported the idea that there is no silver bullet
for water and that all cities are going to have to diversify their
water supplies to remain viable.
An interesting discussion also occurred regarding water rates, conservation and expensive water supply projects.
Robert Puente, SAWS
President/CEO, mentioned that one reason for their decision was that San
Antonio was using less water than predicted because of successful
conservation efforts, which the utility hopes to continue and
expand because conserved water is the least expensive supply
alternative. The panel all agreed that new supply is expensive and
Juan Gomez of UTSA explained that
once expensive supply project are constructed, the business model
shifts because the capitol costs must be repaid through rates, which can
disincentivize conservation. He cited recently
mothballed desalination plants in Australia as an example of this concern.
SAWS Policy and Planning Meeting
A few days after the Town Hall Meeting, another large crowd turned out for the
SAWS Policy and Planning Meeting,
which again openly discussed the groundwater project deferral
recommendation. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the SAWS board
of the staff findings. The board had an opportunity
to question staff on their recommendation and express their concerns,
but they were not scheduled to take action. There was also a focus on
drought strategies and pros and cons of implementing drought stages.
Mr. Puente mentioned that SAWS will be bringing
a newly revised Water Management Plan (WMP) to the board in March to
reflect all their new recommendations. The Mayor mentioned that he
wanted to approach
the WMP discussion with flexibility to leave the door open for vendor
options, particularly if the city can partner with other communities to
In addition to being the focus of a documentary,
San Antonio also received a visit
from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Administrator Gina McCarthy,
who toured the SAWS water recycling and solar power facilities. Ms.
McCarthy said the project is a model for the
nation. Cutting through all the technical speak, she stated simply:
“You guys rock.” Way to go San Antonio. Keep it up.