City Council Poised to Renew Edwards Aquifer Protection Program

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A map of conservation easements on the Edwards Aquifer.

A map of conservation easements on the Edwards Aquifer.

San Antonio's May 9 municipal elections already offer plenty of reasons to turn out at the polls: Voters will elect a mayor, 10 City Council members, and could be voting yes or no on improved pay for elected city officials and other proposed City Charter reforms. Some city voters also will elect school board trustees.

Now, two City Council members, Ron Nirenberg (D-8) and Ray Lopez (D-6), have filed a Council Consideration Request that seeks to extend the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program (EAPP) and the Linear Creekway Parks Development Program, two of the most environmentally progressive initiatives in city history. Both are funded by a 1/8 cent sales tax.

The move to extend the program for a fourth five-year term would require voter approval on the May 9 ballot.

“San Antonio voters have long recognized that our economy and quality of life rest on protecting the water and green spaces that drew people here centuries ago,” Councilmember Nirenberg said. “That’s why they have supported these programs so strongly for the last 15 years. In countless conversations with the community, it’s abundantly clear that San Antonians again want the opportunity to vote for clean water and public lands.”

Bat Conservation International Executive Director Andy Walker looks on as District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg announces the Crescent Hill conservation easement purchase. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Bat Conservation International Executive Director Andrew Walker looks on as District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg announces the Crescent Hill conservation easement purchase. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The initiative, originally known as Proposition 1, was first approved by voters in May 200o during the administration of Mayor Howard Peak, who held the office from 1997-2001. It was renewed by voters as Proposition 3 in May 2005  during the administration of Mayor Ed Garza, who served from 2001-05, and again in May 2010 during the administration of Mayor Julián Castro, who served from 2009-14.

The Rivard Report published an interview with the City's Special Projects Manager Grant Ellis, who oversees the program, in October 2014 that provides an overview of the EAPP's history and success. The program undoubtedly provided the foundation for the City's decision to take the necessary steps that same month to protect the Bracken Bat Cave, a project that Nirenberg played a key role in driving.

(Read more: Conversation: Grant Ellis and the Backbone of Aquifer Protection and City Acts to Protect Bracken Bat Cave.)

Grant Ellis, special projects manager of the EAPP, and Francine Romero, CAB chair and associate dean for the College of Public Policy at UTSA, pose for a photo during the Crescent Hills conservation easement purchase press announcement. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Grant Ellis, special projects manager of the EAPP, and Francine Romero, CAB chair and associate dean for the College of Public Policy at UTSA, pose for a photo after the Crescent Hills conservation easement purchase press announcement. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Since the 2000 vote, The EAPP has used an estimated $195 million in annual sales tax revenues to purchase conservation easements over the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, protecting undeveloped land from future development, especially land with prominent recharge features. More than 130,000 acres of land, which protects an equivalent of 36 billion gallons of water a year for San Antonio residents, has been conserved.

Renewal of the EAPP is part of the City's broader water management and conservation strategy, which Nirenberg has pushed independently of SAWS water management and conservation policies. City Council agreed in February 2014 to initiate its own comprehensive water plan. Mayor Ivy Taylor appointed Nirenberg to chair the City's Comprehensive Planning Committee after she took office in July.

The Linear Creekway Parks Development Program also uses sales tax revenues to purchase land for what has become the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System, which now includes 46 miles of trails and hike and bike pathways that follow creeks throughout the city, with another 40 miles under development.. Trails are now built or planned along the Salado, Leon, Huebner, Olmos, Huesta, Culebra, Alazan, Apache, Martinez,  and San Pedro Creeks and the Medina River. Eventually, every sector of the city will offer public access to the linear creek and trail system, which now encompasses 1,200 acres.

District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez gets organized before the vote. Photo by Scott Ball.

District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez gets organized in City Council chambers. Photo by Scott Ball.

“We have seen the tremendous benefit our linear creekways have had for our city,” said Councilmember Lopez.  “Continuing this program will further encourage residents to lead healthy, active lifestyles, and once the linear parks are fully connected around the entire city, provide an additional mode of transportation and mobility.  These are the investments we must make today to ensure the future health and vitality of our city for generations to come."

Council members Roberto Treviño (D-1), Alan Warrick II (D-2), and Mike Gallagher (D-10) co-signed the Council Consideration Request circulated by Nirenberg and Lopez, which requires five signatories.

*Featured/top image: A map of conservation easements on the Edwards Aquifer. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the EAPP has used and estimated $5 million in annual sales tax revenues to purchase conservation easements. This has been updated to reflect the true amount $195 million.

RELATED STORIES:

Conversation: Grant Ellis and the Backbone of Aquifer ProtectionCity Acts to Protect Bracken Cave’s Bat Colony

Keeping our Water Healthy: New Easements to Protect Edwards Aquifer

Upstream Without a Paddle: Seeking Protection for Edwards Aquifer

Member’s Night at Bracken Bat Cave

At Risk: Planet’s Most Extraordinary Bat Colony

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