Highly Anticipated Water Report Released

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Director of IRNR Raul Lopez gives a statement to city staff. Photo by Scott Ball.

Director of IRNR Raul Lopez explains the peer review process for the water report to the Committee. Photo by Scott Ball.

City officials, community leaders, and any interested citizen can now download the final version of a controversial Water Policy Report from the Texas A&M University’s Institute of Renewable Natural Resources that analyzes projects and policies related to water supply and water security for the City of San Antonio and City of Fair Oaks Ranch.

Click here to download the report, which was released Thursday afternoon on the IRNR and City websites.

"I'm pleased that the analyses are now made public, fully, and we have multiple perspectives on how we can mange the opportunities and opportunity costs of long-term water security," said Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8), who originally requested the report, on Thursday afternoon.

This means City Council is on track to vote on proposed water utility rate increases and a new rate structure on Nov. 19, a vote that was postponed from a date in October until the final report was released.

District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg

Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8). Photo by Scott Ball.

Nirenberg said he will have to "read the report in its entirety" before deciding on how he'll be voting, and that he'll also be drawing from conversations he has had with his colleagues,  and constituents in one-on-one meetings and public forums.

The study will be discussed during four City Council meetings, all open to the public:

  • Thursday, 9 a.m., Nov. 12, City Council A Session: water policy study briefing by IRNR
  • Thursday, 6 p.m., Nov. 12, City Council A Session: citizens to be heard (public comment)
  • Wednesday, 6 p.m., Nov. 18, City Council B Session: citizens to be heard (public comment)
  • Thursday, 9.am., Nov. 19, City Council A Session; final vote preceded by citizens to be heard  (public comment)

The 187-page report has been sent to all 10 City Council members and the mayor directly and will take some time to digest, Nirenberg said, 48 fewer than the draft report that was leaked in September. Redundancies have been deleted and information streamlined for a more readable report. While the final report is shorter, additional perspectives from a scientific review panel (SRP), comprised of researchers at Texas A&M in College Station, have been added and highlighted.

City and San Antonio Water System leadership criticized the draft report for including “inaccuracies, omissions, and opinions” – especially regarding risk analysis of the Vista Ridge project. Calvin Finch, formerly the lead scientist at IRNR, was the lead author of the report. He has since retired from the IRNR. Finch could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Opponents of the Vista Ridge water pipeline project have used the draft report to reignite protests against the project that SAWS and the City hope will bring 16.3 billion gallons of water from the Carrizo Aquifer in Burleson County annually for an estimated 60 years by 2020. Where the $3.4 billion Vista Ridge project is rated as a "high risk" project in Finch's report, the final report categorizes Vista Ridge as having a "medium" uncertainty rating.

Draft report's risk analysis summary.

Draft report's "risk analysis" summary that appears in the final report.

Final report's uncertainty ratings.

Final report's "uncertainty rating" summary.

A preliminary read indicates that the "essence" of Finch's draft remains in the report, as promised in October by the final report's lead author, IRNR Director Roel Lopez. Additional context and research by the SRP has been added – that in some cases refutes mathematically biased claims in the drafts.

"What we essentially have now is two reports (in one) from highly credible scientists and water experts," Nirenberg said. "Both are intended to be non-prescriptive ... and will provide good context for this council and future councils when making important decisions."

Nirenberg initiated the $100,000 report in February 2014. Funds received from the City of Fair Oaks paid for the study. Release of the report was delayed for months.

"Discrepancies between Dr. Finch, the sponsors, and San Antonio Water System (SAWS), with respect to relevant data, their availability and general revision completion, coupled with Dr. Finch’s subsequent retirement, and a media leak of a preliminary draft, delayed completion of the report," the report's executive summary now states.

Nirenberg said the objective was not to commission a report offering policy recommendation. The report, he said, is intended to inform the public and policy makers.

"Anyone looking for this report to say Council should do X, Y, or, Z is going to be disappointed," Nirenberg said. "Ultimately, it will still be determined on a political bench, but now we have the confidence that better, comprehensive info (is being used to) base those decisions. And that is a good thing."

The Rivard Report will continue its analysis of the final report and seek further comments from its authors and key players in the water community. Stay tuned for more coverage.



*Top image: Director of IRNR Roel Lopez explains the peer review process for the water report to the City's Transportation, Technology and Utilities Committee in October 2015. Photo by Scott Ball. 

Related Stories:

Water Forum VI: Vista Ridge, Conservation, Rate Increase

Vista Ridge Deal Dominates UTSA Water Symposium

Vista Ridge Project To Dominate Two Water Forums

City Council to Delay Votes on SAWS Rate Increase, Annexation

Controversial Water Report to Get Peer Review

SAWS Board Briefed on Rate Increase, Meter Readers, Water Report 

2 thoughts on “Highly Anticipated Water Report Released

  1. I look forward to a summary of the major differences and their impacts from the original report and the revised report. Thanks.

  2. Not-so-Quick thoughts:

    Who cares about Vista Ridge?

    I want to know why the SRP thinks Edwards is Medium Uncertainty! According to the SRP ratings 3 of the top 4 current and planned sources are medium uncertain, that’s 67% of the water – including the not-yet-existant Vista Ridge. I can’t wait until page 172. Tell me now!

    Let’s talk about Medina Lake. Seriously. It’s 60% of Vista Ridge capacity, already under contract, a recreation source and a historic legacy. It’s also useful for flood control during torrential rains, and in a questionable state of repair. High Risk, by the way.

    Lost water: who hasn’t seen water flowing for days? On my street a SAWS line was allowed to flow for 3-4 days AFTER being reported. It created a river. Then they flushed the line via the fire hydrant in my yard, didn’t close it properly and I discovered a swamp – wasted water after wasted water. SAWS and Council: give me a 24 hour response line to get that fixed. Lost water is equivalent to Medina Lake every year(or 60% of Vista Ridge) . And SRP grade adjustment from D to B for Lost Water? Sorry, not buying it. Contracting with someone in 2014 who hasn’t produced results on Lost Water warrants a “not enough info to warrant grade”; not an upgrade to a B.

    BexarMet integration? Uh, yawn? Who cares, it’s going away in 2016; with rates integrated by 2017. I’m a former BexarMet customer (complete with higher rates already!) and I don’t care. Gratuitous bone thrown to SAWS for past performance, I guess.

    Good Neighbor/Aquifer protection grade of A? Okay maybe an A for COSA and it’s Sales-Tax-fund-Easement-Buying citizens, but something less for SAWS. No developments near Bat Caves! (aka Karst features over the recharge zone). What’s the point of a permit application if SAWS shrugs and says “but we have to say yes to developers, it’s the law.” Council: maybe request a change to the law, or as Nancy said “Just say ‘No!'” then fight it out in court. What’s the impact of the I-35 Pollinator Corridor, BTW? Maybe Federal Subsidies to supplement Easement Purchases?

    Contamination threat grade: B? Nope, not buying it. Where’s the hard-hitting recommendation from the Draft Report to even verify the Vulnerability Plan exists? SAWS put out a three year contract with Tectonics to write one back in 2011, with option to finish the plan by 2014. Is it done? I saw no mention of it in subsequent budgets. The Chamber of Commerce, BTW, supports SAWS continuing to be exempt from even having a plan to meet Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS). If you’re exempt from anti-terrorism standards, doesn’t the threat of terrorism increase? SAWS is also subject to the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, but I couldn’t find any mention of my “Right to Know” on SAWS website.

    SAWS, TCEQ and CECs: fracking wells? I want a NIMBY ordinance!

    Rate Structure, grade B. Nope, no way. There’s too much conflation between rate structure and rates. And the points that give it a “B” have been supplanted by the latest Board vote. And why isn’t El Paso in the comparison? El Paso’s meter fee is $5.59 and includes 2992 gallons, per EPWU.org. That’s really cheap, if correct. Figure 8 contradicts the text that says the city has “the least expensive water” since Dallas and Houston’s volumetric rates are lower than SAWS in the areas where most customers are (that line chart really needs help, BTW, read the assumptions). Table 11 confirms that San Antonio has the highest fixed service charges of all major cities, and that’s before the Board of Trustees raised them 41% (We’re #1!). If the service charges are the highest, and the volumetric rates are also higher, then how is SAWS water cheapest? I do like the economic-geek theory about maximizing net benefits at a point where consumers have the same marginal cost, though; right now low-use users have a significantly higher marginal cost than high use users, if I recall Econ 101 correctly.

    Impact fees: if we need Vista Ridge due to population growth, and we’re raising consumption rates 50% to pay for Vista Ridge, shouldn’t impact fees being going up, too? You know, say, at least 50%? To pay for the impact due to growth, or something? No? Does Bexar County permit rain water capture to meet potable water needs for new construction? Maybe no impact fee if you build a certified rain capture system?

    Commercial use – I should probably pay attention, but can’t motivate myself to.

    Is it just me, or are parts of Figures 17 and 18 missing? Are the captions all wrong? I’m a pie-charts guy, and I can’t figure these out. The Draft was more clear, but I really think they should say what the whole pie means: how many total gallons does the pie represent? I guess it’s 400,000 acre feet in 2015, and 430-ish in 2060? Anyway, I think it’s supposed to show where the not-enough water is going to almost come from by 2060, and maybe support the need for more water, aka “Vista Ridge!”

    Uncertainty analysis – I’m not sold. The SRP criticized the Risk Analysis for being arbitrary; e.g. “Why are ‘-1’ projects not medium risk?” The same criticism holds true of the SRP Uncertainty categories. “Why is a ‘0.163’ project ‘Low’ when a ‘0.188’ project is ‘Medium’?” They assigned numerical values in order to rank order the most-to-least uncertain projects, but then ignored the concept of a numerical value and simply said the highest tertile (1/3) was “high” simply because it was the highest third. Since the range of uncertainty was 0 to 1, doesn’t that mean that projects close to 1 have high uncertainty and close to 0 low uncertainty? Shouldn’t the scale be something like “Average project rating >0.66 = High, <0.33 = Low, and between them medium? Simply saying the top four are "high" is wrong, it simply means the top four are the most uncertain (for comparative purposes), but that doesn't mean they're "Highly Uncertain." Using the numbers I mentioned, out of 12 projects, there are six <0.33 (aka "low uncertainty projects"), two middling uncertain and four highly uncertain, not simply an even spread of four each.

    After all, the SRP didn't divide the three Fair Oaks projects into High, Medium and Low categories. Why not? Might the 0.188 Trinity Aquifer rate a Low uncertainty score in the Fair Oaks ranking, since it's the bottom one? But wait, Trinity Oaks in SAWS is also a 0.188, and it's a Medium, because it's in the middle. Just what does an uncertainty score of 0.188 mean? Oh, the arbitrariness of it all!

    And just for speculation, if I was doing an uncertainty analysis on only one project using the SRP model, would that single project be in the top (high), middle (medium) or bottom (low) uncertainty category? What's the difference between adding up the symbol "1" and adding up the symbol "+"? The "risk analysis" really just used a different set of symbols that were then totalled up. Two plus signs means the same since as two ones, if all I'm going to do is then rank order the projects by the average number of symbols that I've assigned. But I'm just picking nits now.

    Good luck council, you're going to need it.

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