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Heavy storms and severe droughts are part of the San Antonio historical landscape. This past spring and early summer saw a deluge of rain. Through the summer, the city received only a trace. Then recent rains triggered flash floods across the region, but residents of South Texas know that after every flood, a drought is just around the corner.
The occasional rain event can provide some relief in water demand. But the water supply for the nation’s seventh-largest city can’t be left to chance.
The San Antonio Water System has also been a national leader in water conservation, creating meaningful reductions in San Antonio’s demand for water. Yet we know that even with a continued strong commitment from SAWS, conservation is simply not enough to address the city’s water needs because of two factors.
First, according to climatologists, the Pacific and Atlantic water temperatures help determine weather conditions our region. The long-term oceanic temperature patterns still favor drought in Texas, and probably will continue to do so for another 5-15 years, despite the occasional wet month or even year.
Second, the population of San Antonio and the surrounding area will continue to grow rapidly. According to the Texas Data Center, Bexar County’s population will nearly double by 2050, from 1.8 million today to 3.1 million in 35 years.
In what businesses and industries will these residents work? What will their standard of living be, and their quality of life?
The answers to these questions will be shaped in a significant way by water. With a secure water supply, San Antonio can continue its growth in military medicine, the biosciences, technology, cybersecurity and manufacturing, along with traditional sectors such as tourism and the service industry.
A secure water supply will enable San Antonio to compete in the global marketplace, diversifying the local economy and creating an environment that attracts entrepreneurs and investment. Without one, businesses and job creators will pass San Antonio by on their way to forward-looking cities willing to make critical investments in basic infrastructure such as water.
SAWS has proposed precisely this type of investment to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure, reduce water loss and sewage leaks, and increase the city’s water supply – all while maintaining the utility’s historic commitment to conservation and expanding a lifeline level of service that shields residents who can least afford rate increases.
Part of the proposed multiyear rate adjustment that City Council will consider is related to the Vista Ridge pipeline, which will increase San Antonio’s water supply by 20% and reduce pressure on the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer. But only part. The majority of the proposed increases will pay for other water sources, such as brackish desalination, and needed infrastructure improvements, such as pipelines to ensure that local military bases have a backup water source in times of severe drought.
Water has always been the lifeblood of San Antonio, from the Native Americans who came to the banks of the Yanaguana, to the missionaries who built a system of acequias, to the River Walk today. The rate adjustment proposed by SAWS is an investment that will ensure sufficient water is coursing through San Antonio to make it a vibrant, prosperous city for decades to come.
*Top image: Former Mayor Henry Cisneros speaks during a recent event honoring U.S. Rep Joáquin Castro. Photo by Scott Ball.