City Council will hold a public hearing next Wednesday, Oct. 8 on the proposed 30-year, $3.4 billion contract between SAWS and the Vista Ridge Consortium to deliver 50,000 acre-feet of water from Burleson County to San Antonio every year for 30 years starting in 2019 or 2020.
The actual start of delivery depends on the construction of a 142-mile pipeline and other infrastructure that will bring the water to a SAWS station here.
The public hearing was scheduled one day after a coalition of San Antonio environmental and civil rights groups sent a letter to Mayor Ivy Taylor asking her to hold public hearings throughout San Antonio in all 10 council districts. The Wednesday 6 p.m. hearing at Council chambers in the Municipal Plaza Building on Main Plaza is the only hearing scheduled at this time.
“This agreement is important to the future and diversity of San Antonio’s water supply,” Mayor Ivy R. Taylor stated in the City's press release announcing the public hearing. “Also important is the transparency of the process and the views of people throughout our community.”
Citizens who wish to speak at the hearing have been asked to register online in advance between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. the day of the hearing. Click here to register online, or register in person between 4-6 p.m. at Council chambers the day of the hearing.
The contract was approved by SAWS trustees on Monday and is scheduled to be considered and voted on by City Council by the end of October or early November. The Vista Ridge Consortium, a partnership of Spanish energy giant Abengoa and Blue Water Systems, a private investment group, also is reviewing the contract. Blue Ridge has secured leases from 3,400 landowners in Burleson County and it has agreed to construct the pipeline to deliver the water to SAWS in Bexar County.
The contract represents the most ambitious water diversification project in city history. Proponents say it guarantees San Antonio’s long-term water security, while opponents question its cost, the availability of the water, and the impact the pumping could have on the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer.
That long, narrow aquifer extends from the Rio Grande into Arkansas and would be the source of both regional pipeline deals struck by SAWS to diversify San Antonio’s water supply from its current reliance on the Edwards Aquifer. A pipeline deal with Gonzales County delivers 28,000 acre-feet of water through existing pipeline to SAWS now.
SAWS also is constructing a major desalination plant in southern Bexar County that will begin production in 2016 and be completed in 2026. SAWS maintains underground recharge wells at the same site used to store unneeded water supplies for use during times of drought. The water utility also operates the largest recycled water distribution network in the nation.
SAWS officials see the Vista Ridge deal as the cornerstone of the utility’s long-term diversification strategy. It comes three years after SAWS first issued a request for competitive sealed proposals for 20,000 acre-feet, later amended to 50,000 acre feet, of non-Edwards Aquifer water to accommodate future growth in San Antonio. Demographers estimate the city population will grow by one million people over the next 30 years.
Nine proposals were submitted to SAWS, and Vista Ridge was chosen from a list of three finalists. SAWS opened seven negotiation sessions to the public. A 522-page contract and related documents have been posted online.
Still, opponents have coalesced in recent days as the contract came up for approval by the SAWS board and then was sent to City Council. The letter to Mayor Taylor from the coalition was sent Wednesday.
“We appreciated your important questions raised at the SAWS Board meeting of Sept. 29, when the Board voted to approve the preliminary Vista Ridge contract,” wrote Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance and the other signatories. “We are also very concerned that this contract is moving much too quickly, without enough care being given to the huge implications for San Antonio’s ratepayers, the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, the exporting aquifer in Burleson County, and everyone involved along the 142-mile pipeline route.”
The letter to Taylor was signed by Peace; Linda Curtis, executive director of the League of Independent Voters of Texas; Mike Phillips, leader of COPS/Metro Alliance; Peggy Day, Chairperson, Alamo Group of the Sierra Club, Phyllis Ingram, president, League of Women Voters of the San Antonio Area; Bob Wise, president of imagine San Antonio, and Ron Green, president of the Helotes Heritage Association.
The letter stated that individuals challenging the plan and the schedule for considering the522-page contract signed by SAWS and Vista Ridge were given scant opportunity at Monday’s board meeting to address SAWS trustees before their vote.
“Two speakers who have extensive backgrounds in public finance law attended the SAWS Board meeting on Monday. They attempted to raise serious questions that would have benefited the public vetting of this contract,” the letter stated. “They were given exactly two-minutes each to speak to you about a 522-page contract that was released on Friday and that is still not complete. We would welcome another opportunity to share this information with you and your City Council representatives.
The letter concludes: “We are asking you to slow this process down. Most importantly, we are asking you to hold a full public hearing on this contract and community meetings in each Council District before you vote on the Vista Ridge Contract. We believe we – San Antonio’s ratepayers and all the people along the route who will be impacted financially and ecologically – deserve at least that.”
This story was originally published on Thursday, Oct. 2.