Abbott Vetoes Bill Allowing Sale of Edwards Aquifer Water in Kendall County

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
Gov. Greg Abbott makes his campaign announcement at Sunset Station.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed legislation that would allow the sale of Edwards Aquifer water to counties adjacent to those within Edwards Aquifer Authority territory.

A bill that would allow the San Antonio Water System to sell water from the Edwards Aquifer to developers in fast-growing Kendall County has been blocked after a veto from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Included in a series of vetoes last week was Abbott’s denial of House Bill 1806, sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Tracy O. King of Uvalde, with a Senate companion sponsored by Republican Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels. That bill would have allowed SAWS to sell water from the Edwards Aquifer to counties outside the boundaries of the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), the government entity that regulates pumping of the aquifer.

Created by the Texas Legislature to manage the Edwards, a limestone rock layer that serves as the largest water source in the San Antonio region, the EAA has a territory that covers Uvalde, Medina, and Bexar counties and parts of Atascosa, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe, and Hays counties. HB 1806 would have allowed the sale of Edwards water in counties adjacent to those, something currently not allowed under State law.

In his veto announcement, Abbott, a Republican, said the EAA was set up to have all water well permit holders in that area represented on its board of directors. Collectively, board members are meant to represent all who rely on Edwards Aquifer water.

“This bill goes in the opposite direction by elevating the rights of one user above all others,” the announcement states. “Vetoing this bill maintains the careful balance of water rights within the Edwards Aquifer Authority and ensures that the resources of the aquifer remain protected.”

The issue came up in the most recent legislative session because of SAWS’ plans to begin providing water to new developments on the fringe of Boerne, especially one new development on property known as the Biedenharn tract. Some residents and water advocates have said the bill would pave the way for SAWS to subsidize sprawl in Kendall County by selling cheap Edwards Aquifer water over the county line.

SAWS is allocating water service for a neighborhood development in Kendall County near Boerne Texas.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A portion of the Biedenhorn tract, also known as Boerne West

SAWS officials have countered that they intended to provide Edwards water only as a potential backup to water from other SAWS sources, such as Canyon Lake, and that they had no intention of selling water farther afield at relatively cheap Edwards Aquifer prices.

SAWS lobbyists agreed to bill language that would have limited exports to 1.9 billion gallons per year and only 480 million gallons per year in Kendall County. SAWS would also have had to get consent from Kendall County commissioners.

In a prepared statement, Donovan Burton, SAWS vice president of water resources and governmental relations, said the utility is disappointed with Abbott’s veto.

Laws that regulate transmission of water “impact SAWS’ ability to plan for affordable and reliable water for our community,” Burton said. “This is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.  These laws inhibit regional water partnerships that are critical to our economic viability.  We will continue communicating with state leaders about the need to focus water policy on science and regional cooperation.”

Burton also said SAWS will be able to supply water to the Biedenharn tract, also known as Boerne West, from its Canyon Lake supply.

In a phone interview, EAA General Manager Roland Ruiz told the Rivard Report that the EAA had decided to remain neutral on the bill.

Ruiz said the bill would not have affected the total pumping cap on all the water withdrawn from the Edwards Aquifer per year, nor any of the other permits and regulations in place to ensure enough water remains for all users, including endangered species that rely on aquifer-fed springs.

Asked whether the bill could have led to exporting of Edwards water outside the region, Ruiz said all the other regulations around the Edwards would likely have prevented that.

“This bill was limited to adjacent counties,” he said. “Under that scenario, you wouldn’t see huge pipelines transporting Edwards water outside the region to other regions.”

7 thoughts on “Abbott Vetoes Bill Allowing Sale of Edwards Aquifer Water in Kendall County

  1. Never thought I’d be grateful for anything Abbott ever did!!
    When this bill was in the legislature I wondered the same thing Mitch did.

  2. I’m willing to be corrected here because my recall can be suspect. I thought that the Edwards Aquifer Authority was born from a Sierra Club lawsuit in 1990s over endangered species like blind salamaders and snail darters in Landa Park NewBraufels. Because of this lawsuit, we must now restrict our use via Stage 1, etc. So in SanAntonio, all hell breaks loose if we go below 600 ft. Isn’t that what is so darn important, preserving every drop for endangered species. Development and human need aren’t important.

    Also, isn’t that why we need Buena Vista?

  3. Though I appreciate the article, why are no opponents to the legislation being quoted? They were plentiful, including the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District, on the receiving end of this, yet another, SAWS “water grab.”

    There is so much more about this SAWS smack-down than meets the page — like those officials in the “forced donor communities” for Vista Ridge, 143-miles northeast of San Antonio pointing out to Gov. Abbott the abject hypocrisy of moving Edwards water out of SA, to then move water in from their/our communities.

    At least Rivard is covering some of this story, but please cover it all. This must include the SAWS ratepayers, who are paying for these misguided “California water model” policies of moving water for real estate development to areas without their own water supply.

    Please visit LIVTexas.org/SA.

    Thank you, Rivard…please do more.

    Linda Curtis, Bastrop, Texas

    • To continue with Linda’s thread, & to paraphrase SAWS CEO Robert Puente, the Vista Ridge project is sanctioned by & consistent with the SA2020 “vision”, which is to promote an aggressive built environment, metroplex agenda, preparing to welcome residents who will double the size of San Antonio. Read all about it . . .

  4. In my view, Governor Abbott’s veto of HB 1806 reaffirmed the long-standing water policy of Texas which allows groundwater to be managed locally within defined boundaries, through groundwater conservation districts.

    This preferred method of groundwater management protects the water rights of landowners through their locally elected Directors whether or not that district covers a single county like Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District or a multi-county district like the Edwards Aquifer Authority.

    To fully tell the story of this veto as reported here, it is important to offer a few points of clarification to these two statements.

    RE: “SAWS lobbyists agreed to bill language that would have limited exports to 1.9 billion gallons per year and only 480 million gallons per year in Kendall County. SAWS would also have had to get consent from Kendall County commissioners.”

    First, the larger figure could be viewed as a regional water issue, while the smaller one represents a local matter. Both are water management issues.

    Either way, these figures looks like a lot of water and they are. As written in the language of bill, the gallons translate into acre-feet.

    An acre-foot of water is equivalent to one acre of land covered by 12 inches of water. It’s roughly enough water to meet the yearly needs of two households.

    On the table was 6,000 acre-feet of Edwards water that could have been sold wholesale per year for use in any county that is adjacent to Bexar County.

    Six counties meet that criteria and include Bandera, Kendall, Comal, Guadalupe, Wilson and Atascosa.

    Thus, the total annual amount in play could have been as high as 36,000 acre-feet, the original bill contained no specified limit.

    Second, as for the water that was destined for Kendall County, the gallons equate to 1,500 acre-feet.

    This is the exact quantity of water a developer negotiated from San Antonio’s water utility for Kendall County Water Control and Improvement (WCID) No. 3.

    Thanks to Representative Kyle Biedermann, an attempt to assert local management control over quantities of water that exceeded 1,500 acre-feet, by the Kendall County Commissioners Court, was included in HB 1806.

    It is also important to note that that this is a water district created through a special law—Senate Bill 914, by the Legislature in 2017, without a source of water.

    That law also requires WCID No. 3 to get the City’s consent to actually be created because a portion of it is in the extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) of the City of Boerne.

    As of today, the City has not consented to, nor denied, the creation of WCID No.3.

    That action was tabled earlier this year by City Council as the City continues to seek a mutually beneficial development agreement with the developer of WCID No.3.

    Perhaps the changes to the planned export of water from the Edwards Aquifer into Kendall County will serve to restart those negotiations.

    Milan J. Michalec, Director, Pct 2 and Board President, Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District, Kendall County, Texas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *