A coalition of San Antonio environmental and civil rights groups have sent a letter to Mayor Ivy Taylor asking her to hold public hearings throughout San Antonio 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.
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. Opponents of that time-table want Mayor Taylor and City Council to slow down the process and hold public hearings in all 10 Council districts.
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. Opponents have coalesced in recent days as several months of contract negotiations concluded and the time came to vote on the contract.
"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."
Peace and several others involved in the effort said they would speak before City Council Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. during the Citizens to Be Heard segment of the B Session meeting.
The letter to Taylor was signed by Peace; Linda Curtis, executive director of the League of Independent Texans; 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 the 522-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."
*Featured/top image: City Council Chambers. Photo by Scott Ball.