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Council Hears Water Report Before Making Decision Next Week

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Activist Graciella Sanchez addresses the full city council on SAWS rate increases

  San Antonio council members have finally heard from the experts who drafted a controversial water report that was leaked and then revised. The report is a basis for the council considering a hefty hike in water rates and construction of the Vista Ridge water pipeline.

Some opponents of the rate hike asked the council to postpone next week’s vote because if the measure passes, it would raise water and sewer rates an average of 50 percent over five years.  Opponents questioned the need for the 142-mile Vista Ridge pipeline that would be paid for, in part, with money from the increase.  Graciella Sanchez, director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, condemned the action for what she says is a lack of transparency.“I am so disappointed, I am so angry for the ongoing rush jobs, fast tracking, that City Council, SAWS, and city staff have engaged in.”

Another activist, Giana Rendon, said citizens don’t believe officials have really listened to their concerns.

“The public wants you to sit down with us, have a cup of coffee, listen to us, please.”

The study, done by Texas A&M University, reviewed 12 projects that could supply the San Antonio area with water in the future. It tried to answer important questions: Are the sources reliable? How much water will each provide?  What is the cost of each project? 

The experts who wrote the report were asked by District 1 Councilman Robert Trevino if they had access to sufficient data.

“Did you feel that you had all the information that you needed to fully and accurately assess the Vista Ridge project when compared to other water sources available to San Antonio…?”

Roel Lopez, Ph.D., of A&M, said some of the cost and hydrology data wasn’t immediately accessible.

“Not all that information was available and that was noted.”

Trevino asked, “Is there anything else that we could provide you?”

“No, part of the challenge, frankly, is it goes back to this notion of understanding risk and looking at it comprehensively. The data needs related to that are pretty significant.” 

SAWS CEO Robert Puente sought to reassure council members that the rate increase is needed not only for Vista Ridge but for the operation of a desalination plant under construction, to replace ageing water lines and for additional infrastructure.“Over 900 miles of our sewer pipeline is over 50 years old. Over 900 [miles] of our water pipelines are over 50 years old. 

Puente also sought to counter claims by rural landowners who live over the aquifer that will be tapped for the pipeline. They believe the Vista Ridge project will cause some of their wells to go dry. Puente said there’s enough water in the aquifer for everyone.

“The current studies show that there is so much water there that even after 60 years of pumping 50,000 acre feet that aquifer would only go down 1.6 percent.”

District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who asked for the report to be presented to council before any decision on rates is made, feels that the public input process has finally begun.

“As we heard from our citizens loud and clear both in the neighborhoods and at citizens to be heard today we don’t want to necessarily jump to any conclusions until we examine all the data.  And we will continue to do that over the next week. Past that we will continue to do that for the life of this contract should it get passed.”

The council is scheduled to vote next Thursday on the rate increase which will allow the construction of Vista Ridge to continue.