San Antonio's water and aquifer management programs and practices are often cited as some of the most effective in the nation.
For instance, the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program recently received one of three national Partners in Conservation Award from the Department of the Interior.
A new documentary film, "Water Blues, Green Solutions," about water conservation and sustainability continues that praise by showcasing local work along with three other innovative programs across the country.
Monday night, UTSA's downtown campus will host a free screening of the film produced by Pennsylvania State University's Public Media at 5 p.m. followed by a panel of local water stakeholders including San Antonio Water System (SAWS) President and CEO Robert Puente, Edwards Aquifer Authority EEA General Manager Roland Ruiz, San Antonio River Authority (SARA) General Manager Suzanne Scott and J. Allen Carnes, mayor of Uvalde, Texas.
The film's director, Academy Award nominee and six-time Emmy Award winner Frank Christopher, will moderate the panel.
"We basically held a charrette with water experts," Christopher said of the early planning and research stages of the film. Landscape architects, utilities, ecologists, academic researchers, policy makers – all were consulted and as his team began to perform site visits around the country, looking for places and programs to showcase, "San Antonio rose to the top pretty quickly." As did the Bronx, Philadelphia and Portland, also featured in the film.
The problem, typical of most environmental resources, is scarcity and quality. The film explores the different approaches to conservation, preservation and acquisition in each location.
"San Antonio was a really compelling story because of the advanced work that was already being done (in sustainability) as well as the restoration of the San Antonio River," Christopher said. "Part of what I try to do is make things more accessible to a general audience ... (it's matter of) finding those passionate people and getting them in front of a camera."
The film features administrators, activists and politicians as well as those "on the ground" in water management including ranchers, farmers and educators.
"Farming produces food, (but) the City is using water to grow grass," said former Express-News water and environment reporter Colin McDonald in the film. "So there's a circular argument that's been going around for at least 30 years on who can take how much water for what out of the Edwards Aquifer."
In 1991 the Sierra Club brought a lawsuit against the Federal Government to protect endangered species, like the Texas Blind Salamander. The loss of wildlife habitat was imminent because of the unlimited pumping from the Edwards Aquifer.
“Some people tried to characterize it as a situation of critters versus people," Ken Kramer, former Sierra Club state chapter president said in the film. "The Sierra Club was trying to come up with a way that we could manage water resources so that every body could benefit.”
“That lawsuit helped the community to become a community that is very smart about its use of water and has made the right investments in conservation,” said Major Julián Castro in the film. “San Antonians have embraced a reasonable conservation culture.”
South Texas is especially prone to long periods of drought, making San Antonians acutely aware of water issues, but not necessarily of the programs and work being done behind the scenes at the City and other organizations charged with management. The film was able to demonstrate how all these different groups are working together and with citizens to get the job done.
From the off-duty San Antonio Police Officers that patrol neighborhoods for homes in violation of watering/drought restrictions, to the City's Edwards Aquifer Protection Program strategic purchase and monitoring of land easements over the recharge zone (116,683 acres to date), to SAWS' Dos Rios Water Recycling Center, to the EAA's educational outreach (including Aquifer Explorer Alberto "Doc Edwards" Ramirez), to the regional farming and ranching issues, the inner-workings of what San Antonio is doing to ease its "Water Blues" is well-documented.
"You have to think more broadly about water especially when your water source is a regional entity," said Francine Romero, associate dean of UTSA's College of Public Policy, chairs the City's Conservation Advisory Board, which oversees the Edward's Aquifer Protection Program. "This (film) show that it's way more of a partnership (between counties and cities), not adversarial."
"We're able to work as a united group," said Grant Ellis, special projects manager for the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, in agreement. "We're one of the tools in the tool belt ... when it comes to aquifer protection, we all play a vital role."
Homeowners within the city limits were featured in the film as well as ranchers in surrounding counties.
“I’m a very conservative person and you would think conservative people aren’t very 'green,'” said Todd Figg, a rancher interviewed in the film. His ranch is located on the Edwards Aquifer Recharge zone and is now a conservation easement. “You know what? Being a steward of the land is being a good conservative cause you’re taking care of things for your children and for their future.”
The film's website, www.waterblues.org, features the full-length film and interactive features that separate segments by location and theme. To RSVP for the Feb. 10 event, contact Erin Jines of UTSA College of Public Policy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 210-458-3213. Go to www.utsa.edu for more event information.