Aquifer Protection and Trail Expansion Headed for May 9 Ballot

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Map of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone from the ArcGIS mapping tool.

Map of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone from the ArcGIS mapping tool. http://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?useExisting=1

With the San Antonio City Council’s Governance Committee’s unanimous approval, renewal for sales tax funding of the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program (EAPP) and Howard Peak Greenway Trails System is expected to go to the voters on the May 9 ballot.

The same ballot will include the mayoral and City Council elections and, possible, proposed charter reform amendments.

“Citizens supported this issue 2:1 (in 2010), I think that’s moving up steadily,” said District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg, who requested the ballot item to renew funding alongside District 6 Councilmember Ray Lopez. “In a city that’s growing and becoming increasingly urbanized, more and more people are realizing that the number one consideration for economic security is protecting our drinking (and ground) water.”

The measure also represents the continued commitment to conservation, despite the recent approval of the Vista Ridge pipeline that is expected to expand and diversify San Antonio’s water supply by 20%.

District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez

District 6 Councilmember Ray Lopez

“This (measure) underscores a commitment that we made to folks in the north (where the Vista Ridge water will be coming from),” he said. “We’re not going to stop our conservation efforts, we’re not going to stop our initiatives to make sure we’re protecting our aquifer.”

The program has protected 133,447 acres of ranchland over the aquifer recharge zone in Bexar and surrounding counties, and funded development of 46 miles of trailways and protected more than 1,200 acres of creekside land. If approved again, 40 additional miles of trails will receive funding, further connecting neighborhoods to this unique system.

Slide from Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni's presentation to the City Council Governance Committe.

Slide from Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni’s presentation to the City Council Governance Committe.

District 4 Councilmember Rey Saldaña noted the lack of green markings on the map (above) on the Southwest side of town.

“The (Howard W. Peak Greenway Trail System) touches every corner – I would argue it probably doesn’t touch the Southwest corner enough,” he said, praising the trailway program and putting his district’s hat in the ring for the next round of decisions on where these trails are placed.

Nirenberg’s remarks and the Committee’s approval vote received applause and a standing ovation, respectfully, by those attending the meeting as observers including former Mayor Howard Peak, District 2 Councilmember Alan Warrick II, District 5 Councilmember Shirley Gonzales, District 10 Councilmember Mike Gallagher, District 7 Councilmember Cris Media, members of environmental organizations, staff from the EAPP, and more.

Members of the Governance Committee include (from left) Ron Nirenberg (D8), Joe Krier (D9), the Chair and Mayor Ivy Taylor, Ray Saldaña (D4), and Rebecca Viagran (D3).

Members of the Governance Committee include (from left) Ron Nirenberg (D8), Joe Krier (D9), the Chair and Mayor Ivy Taylor, Rey Saldaña (D4), and Rebecca Viagran (D3).

The measure will now go to the full City Council during Thursday’s A Session meeting, where it is expected to be passed unanimously. From there, it will go through the State Comptroller’s office and then will likely be formally placed on the ballot on or before the Feb. 26 Council meeting.

Voters have strongly supported protection of the Edwards Aquifer for 15 years via a 1/8 cent sales tax. The City is proposing a $180 million package this year, a $45 million increase from the $135 million packages approved in 2005 and 2010. The projects were initiated in 2000 with $65 million, with the EAPP receiving the bulk of the funding each time Proposition 1 & 2 were renewed.

Slide from Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni's presentation to the City Council Governance Committe.

Slide from Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni’s presentation to the City Council Governance Committe.

While there were some initial questions as to whether Mayor Ivy Taylor, District 9 Councilmember Joe Krier, and others would seek to reallocate funds to other projects, there was no mention of that during Wednesday’s meeting.

Krier did propose that Council members consider adding $20 million to the ballot, making the total $200 million, that would directly fund new and existing park projects within the City limits. He asked Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni if that would be allowed within the language of the legislation.

“You could do that, Councilman, that’s correct,” Zanoni said. “The enabling legislation is pretty broad – pretty general. It’s part land acquisition and part development of parks.”

There were curious looks around the Committee’s table.

“I wish we would all think about that between now and tomorrow,” Krier said. “It’s a rare opportunity. If I had $10 for every constituent that said, ‘We need to fix up the parks in our district, we need more parkland.'”

He also cited an upcoming City annexation that would incorporate 200,000 people.

“I am confident that those people are going to be saying, ‘Where’s my park? Where (are) my libraries and my police stations and street improvements?'” he said.

Krier did not amend to measure during Wednesday’s meeting, but said he would consider doing so on Thursday during A Session after researching the legality of such a use of funds and the language that would need to be included if it is.

*Featured/top image: Map of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone from the ArcGIS mapping tool

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Weighing the Costs of Water Security or Doing Nothing

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