Addressing long term water security

This month, citizens from every corner of San Antonio will engage in the discussion on how we can address the most important issue for our city’s future: long term water security. I hope you’ll join the conversation on a project that I believe is worthy of our support.

City Council will vote on ratification of a pipeline construction contract (Read here) between SAWS and a private company. The proposed pipeline would span 142 miles from Burleson County northeast of San Antonio and deliver billions of gallons of water every year.
By the year 2040, San Antonio will be home to a million new residents. An abundant, affordable, and quality water supply is nonnegotiable in order to ensure economic opportunity and quality of life in our city.
The Edwards Aquifer has been the backbone of our region’s water supply for centuries, and protecting it should remain a top priority. After Aquifer protection and continued conservation efforts, diversification is the next step toward long-term water security.
SAWS has pursued an aggressive diversification strategy, including:
Earlier this year, SAWS staff reviewed those regional water supply proposals and decided that none of them accomplished what SAWS was looking for: the acquisition of 50,000 acre-feet of water with as little financial risk to SAWS ratepayers as feasible. The SAWS Board of Trustees asked staff to see if they could do anything to make any of the deals work.
In February, SAWS decided that a modified proposal from an entity called Vista Ridge would be worth pursuing. Vista Ridge is a consortium consisting of Abengoa USA, who will build the pipeline, and Austin-based Blue Water, who will supply the water. Vista Ridge proposed pumping water from the Carrizo Aquifer in Burleson County, a few counties east of Austin, to the SAWS distribution system here in Bexar County.
SAWS and Vista Ridge began negotiating a water-supply contract in July. At that time, I laid out four criteria for an acceptable deal: fiscal responsibility (reduction of risk to SAWS ratepayers), continued emphasis on conservation/aquifer protection, regional responsibility (collaboration with parties at the source and along the pipeline route), and an open public process.

After a total of seven public negotiating meetings, the broad terms of the agreement are:

  • Vista Ridge will build a pipeline from Burleson County to San Antonio.
  • Vista Ridge will be responsible for acquiring the rights to 50,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Carrizo Aquifer and delivering it to San Antonio for 30 years.
  • SAWS will pay only for water that is delivered.
  • During the 30-year contract period, SAWS will be responsible for sharing some of the cost of operations and maintenance.
  • SAWS will be committing to purchasing 50,000 acre-feet from Vista Ridge at a fixed cost per year.
  • SAWS will retain ownership of the pipeline after 30 years.
At the beginning of the 30-year contract period, it’s possible that SAWS won’t need all of the water provided by the pipeline. SAWS officials are exploring the option of selling this excess water to communities along the pipeline. These wholesale water agreements would give those smaller communities the opportunity to pursue their own water security. Since a water-rich San Antonio can’t thrive in a water-poor South Texas, widespread water security serves us all.

Now that SAWS and Vista Ridge have finished their negotiations and the SAWS Board has approved the project, it’s time for the public to examine the project. What are your questions and concerns?I had the opportunity to join a distinguished panel at a forum hosted by the UTSA College of Public Policy to discuss the project. NOWCastSA recorded the conversation and you can view it here:

In the next few days, you’ll have a couple chances to share your thoughts with me in person. This Wednesday night at 6 p.m., we’ll hold a public hearing on the proposed pipeline in Council chambers. If you can’t make it, you can watch it live on TVSA. SAWS Trustee Reed Williams will give a presentation at the next NNOD meeting on Monday evening at 7 p.m. at the Hardberger Park Urban Ecology Center.
If you can’t make it out to either, let’s take this conversation to social media. Tweet your thoughts @CouncilmanRon8 or find me on Facebook at facebook.com/CouncilmanRon8.