Tag Archives: san antonio

Did We Miss Our Teachable Moment on Water?

Well blog readers, the blog is  back after a long hiatus and there is A LOT to talk about.  This summer may not have been as dry as last summer, but that doesn't mean there aren't lots of water issues to discuss.  We are not out of a drought and there still isn't enough to go around.  First, a tad about me.  I have changed positions and shifted into academia full time, while still doing some work for EDF so for now this blog will still be up and running in its current location. Unless you hear differently, please keep tuning in.

As the title indicates, I have been a bit disappointed in what I have been seeing in cities lately regarding water planning. One would think that after such a severe drought we would reevaluate our practices to be able to withstand another drought or just live more sustainably. Sadly that isn't the case. Here are some examples.

Austin

If you live in Austin you might have been confused this summer about when you can water and when you can't.  This might be in part because the city changed briefly back to 2x/week watering (even though the lakes were still far from full) in July and then they quickly got changed back to 1x/week in September.  The reason given for relaxing the standards was the trees, but hose watering was never restricted so that doesn't make sense.  The mayor said he didn't see a problem going back and forth, but some citizens might disagree particularly when it is within a 2-month time frame.  To successfully create a conservation culture you need a consistent message.  Perhaps a permanent ordinance change can be crafted that protects trees and provides consistency for residents.

Some Austin residents have all the consistency they need by having no watering rules apply to the wells they have drilled.  They argue that their use of groundwater alleviates the lakes for other uses, but that argument has very little do to with the issue.  First, that water they are happily removing is needed somewhere else, whether it be by springs and the environment or communities that don't have access to surface water.

Second, people shouldn't have the right to do things their neighbors aren't allowed just because they  can afford it especially when it is wasteful and not beneficial to the greater good of the community.  If anything, this could lead to local disputes and discord.  It is also looking for a solution in the wrong direction.  Central Texas is dry.  That is the reality. Instead of spending all that money on a well, the whole lawn could be revamped to require less water.  The City of Austin recently passed a resolution to require an owner register a well, but didn't prohibit the wells as other cities have done.

San Antonio

Last night in San Antonio, I attended one of San Antonio Water System's (SAWS) two public meetings on a proposed new Water Management Plan and Conversation ordinance.  What? You didn't know about these?  Perhaps that it because the events weren't listed on the SAWS website or in their newsletter.  In fact, I had to call SAWS to get time, date, and location the afternoon of the meeting, at which point it was added to the website.  Why does this matter?  Well, it matters because this will define the water future for San Antonio and people need to be aware of it.  It will also greatly impact water rates, although we don't know how much yet because that wasn't part of the presentation even though the board vote is scheduled for October 2, a mere two weeks away.  It is unclear when citizens will have the opportunity to learn about and comment on their future water rate increase.

Although I have many questions and concerns about the plan, right now I am more concerned about the process.  SAWS has a nationwide reputation for their leadership in conservation and water innovation. Part of the reason they have been so successful is their willingness to partner with community stakeholders.  However, in this biggest roll out since 2009, hardly anyone knows it is happening.  I hope this doesn't indicate a shift in SAWS culture.  The best thing SAWS can do in this situation is delay the vote on this plan and allow people time to review the draft document once it is complete and submit comments.

I have heard from various water managers that customers are experiencing drought or conservation fatigue. I am not sure how to respond to that.  We can't make it rain, we can't change our climate, we can only live within its bounds. Didn't the drought teach us that if nothing else? Perhaps the fatigue is coming from fighting reality whereas accepting it would not only make folks feel better, it would enable us to live here longer.

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Drought, Edwards Aquifer, Groundwater, san antonio, Water Conservation, Water Planning | Also tagged , , , | 2 Responses

Big City Water Problems Call for Big Solutions

It is no secret that more Texans are moving to urban areas. More people mean more water demands. More water demand means more infrastructure and all of this requires more money.  It doesn't help that all of this increased demand is taking place during a serious drought, forcing city and state governments to explore new solutions.  The good news is that most large Texas cities are not located in a desert like Las Vegas or Phoenix, at least not yet.  That aside, the current crisis necessitates action and that seems to be starting.

What to Do?

A couple of weeks ago, Texas lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee came together to talk water.  One of the interesting aspects of the hearing was the focus on the need for water to preserve our economy.  Water is often discussed from an environmental or even personal lifestyle perspective, but it is also a critical part of Texas industry.  In many ways, Texas has weathered the national economic turmoil fairly well.  This cannot continue without sustainable water resources.  Cities can't grow and industry can't run.  Unfortunately, even within this reality some Texas cities, such as Corpus Christi, seem to be ignoring this harsh reality.

On the other hand, the DFW area, often vilified for its water usage, is seeking to make twice-a-week watering restrictions a permanent way of life for local citizens thanks to the banding together of four North Texas city mayors.  Whether or not this particular rule is the key to all the metroplex problems, this move towards a regional approach is most certainly a huge improvement.  As we all know, water doesn't respect physical boundaries so group planning in an important part of any water solution, particularly in areas where people work in one area and live in another.  Unified metroplex rules can solve many points of confusion that might arise.

Austin is also discussing new approaches to watering and restrictions.  Often, strict watering restrictions don't take nature into account.  It can be perfectly legal to water the day after (or during) a rainstorm even if it isn't logical.  The real key to efficient watering is a combination of when and how much. Austin is considering a pilot project that gives discretion to users regarding when they water as long as they don't exceed a monthly water budget.  Smarter technologies may be a key to helping the ground "decide" when some water is needed and when it isn't.

The Natural Resources Committee hearing also turned to infrastructure and technology.  The perceived silver bullet of desalination was again raised with references to what has been done in Australia.  It is important to note that the use of increased technology in Australia was paired with customer behavior changes.  Conservation in all aspects of life was a critical component of the overall water plan.  That being said, infrastructure is an important aspect of sustainability.

Who Should Supply Water?

Interestingly the gap between need and supply has created an opportunity for private companies to replace local agencies as water providers.  Traditionally, water supply and infrastructure has been the exclusive purview of the municipal provider, but as city to-do lists get longer, they are more willing to contract out the work.  The basic reasoning is that a private company has a financial incentive to replace old, leaking infrastructure because lost product means lost revenue.  Many criticize this shift because it changes a public service to a private, money-making enterprise and is seen as the commoditization of water, which should be a public good.  Unfortunately, a frequent side effect of privitization is exorbitant increases in water bills.  After all, these companies are here to make a profit.  On the other side of the coin, many cities simply do not have the revenue to replace pipes responsible for thousands of gallons of leaking water.

In some ways, it is hard to argue against paying higher prices for water. Many feel that we don't pay what water is worth; however, commoditizing water can be a dangerous game.  If cities are going to contract with companies, a balance must be struck.  Water is necessary for life so no one should be priced out of the market for their basic water needs.  High, punitive pricing should be reserved for large, discretionary users who may decide the price of a large lawn is worth it.  Additional issues arise if users in comparable urban areas are paying significantly different rates simply because of a local government choice.  If privitization is going to be continuing trend, state legislators need to consider putting some basic rules in place to limit what people can be forced to pay, particularly for basic amounts as well as other limitations on corporate actions as they affect water supply.

It isn't news that there isn't one answer to this issue.  Group efforts with diverse approaches are necessary, but it's good to see some important conversations taking place.  We will keep letting you know what we hear.

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Climate Change, Dallas, Drought, Legislature, san antonio, Water Planning | Also tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Biggest Decision in TX Groundwater Since 1904!

Almost 2 years ago, in one of our first blogs, we posted about a groundwater case pending in front of the Texas Supreme Court.  At the time, none of us predicted that we would have to wait over 2 years for a decision, but wait we did — until Friday.  On February 17th, the Texas Supreme Court issued perhaps the most important decision governing groundwater since the 1904 East case declared that right of capture was Texas' official system of allocation.  While we were awaiting a ruling, the Texas legislature tried to answer the same question posed to the court with SB 332.  After enacted legislation and a 50-page opinion, the only thing that we can be certain about is more uncertainty.

Some background

Although Texas recognizes right of capture, there was a question regarding when the property right is perfected. The fundamental issue in the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) v. Day case is whether an overlying landowner owns the groundwater beneath her property “in place” or whether ownership of the groundwater only vests once the groundwater has been captured through pumping.   If the property right is held in place, regulations promulgated by groundwater districts limiting pumping by a landowner may constitute a constitutional taking requiring compensation. Consequently, imposing regulations to ensure groundwater sustainability may be become difficult if not impossible.

The ruling

The Day case was initiated when the plaintiff landowners requested 700 acre-feet from the EAA and were granted a permit for 14 acre-feet so they brought a claim alleging a taking.   The EAA grants permits based on proven historic use of the water between 1972 and 1993.  The court explicitly held that landowners have a vested right in water in place; however, the court remanded the case to determine if a takings had occurred in this individual case.  In defining the rule of capture, the court defined it as right of capture for oil and gas has been classified in the state.

The impact

While the ruling is being hailed as a victory by landowners, its true implications will not be known without further litigation.    This means that future court decisions will be responsible for filling in the factual details of what constitutes a taking and what does not.  Meanwhile, while that is getting sorted out around the state, groundwater pumping may be left unchecked during a critical time and a continuing drought will only exacerbate this problem.  In addition to creating some uncertainty across the state, the ruling may put the legitimacy of multi-year, stakeholder driven Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (RIP) into question.  This is particularly unfortunate because it was a consensus-based approach to maintaining flow in the springs while still adhering to pumping limits.  While only time will tell, it is alarming to think that this ruling may have created more questions than answers thus putting our already fragile groundwater resources at further risk.

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Edwards Aquifer, Groundwater, Groundwater Conservation Districts, Legislature, Litigation, san antonio, Water Planning | Also tagged , , , , | 2 Responses

Big Step Forward in Protecting the Edwards Aquifer

This post was written by Dianne Wassenich, Executive Director of the San Marcos River Foundation

Four years ago, a group of very diverse (and often at odds) group of stakeholders started meeting in a seemingly impossible effort to solve the problem of the Edwards Aquifer and ensure water for all its users.  Last week marked a historic agreement in that effort.   Through an almost unanimous vote, the group agreed on a Recovery Implementation Program (RIP), which will protect the flowing Comal and San Marcos springs and the threatened and endangered species who live there while still providing water for its users.

This agreement comes after decades of conflict in this central Texas region about who could pump the aquifer, how much, and when.  The consensus-based RIP process was initiated by US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) because of its success in other states and later legislated in 2007’s SB3, which created tight deadlines for the process.  This was a particularly difficult challenge because it involved complex groundwater and surface water hydrology and a mix of state agencies, cities, farmers, industries and environmental interests.

Thousands of stakeholder hours have resulted in a feasible science-based plan that will help keep the springs flowing in a drought even more serious than the one we are enduring right now, according to computer models.  Seven years of additional work is planned on the aquifer model and other studies to help the group understand whether the plan is enough or if more is needed.   The plan is estimated to cost $18.5 million a year and will further limit the pumping of the aquifer.  Much of this money will go towards paying farmers not to pump during low water years and storing water in an underground reservoir, which will be owned and operated by San Antonio Water Systems.

As a stakeholder representing the San Marcos River Foundation, I am happy to see this plan completed and hope it will be approved by Edwards Aquifer Authority in December and forwarded on to the USFWS for their approval.  We hope we can move quickly in our region to get some of the projects underway to protect this important water resource.   This RIP is a testament to what can be accomplished when people work together for a solution.

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Edwards Aquifer, Environmental Flows, Groundwater, Legislature, Regional Planning Process, Resources, SB3, Water Conservation, Water Planning | Also tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ignoring the elephant in the room: Energy

Apparently some folks still haven't received the memo that moving water takes energy — a lot of energy.  I was a disappointed to read an Express News story last week about bids for water imports in San Antonio.   Last Friday, 13 potential water suppliers were scheduled to turn in their proposals to the San Antonio Water System as part of their ongoing efforts to diversify their water sources away from the Edwards Aquifer. 

In a long list of potential projects, including one stretching from the Panhandle to San Antonio, there was no mention of the energy requirements.  Pumping permits, easements and construction were included, but nothing about what energy source would be used and the cost impact of fluctuating energy prices.  Let's hope that SAWS takes that into consideration in their December responses.  Otherwise, the city of San Antonio may be in for a big surprise.

Posted in Central Texas, Energy-Water Nexus, san antonio, Water Planning | Also tagged , | Leave a comment

New Report: Seven Ways to Reduce Texas' Outdoor Water Use

Guest post by Lacey McCormick, Communications Manager for National Wildlife Federation.

Last week, the National Wildlife Federation and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra club released a new report, Sprayed Away: Seven Ways to Reduce Texas' Outdoor Water Use, examining seasonal changes in water use in 18 cities across the state. We found that water use rose 58% during July, August and September when compared to December, January and February.

Reducing the amount of water we use during the summer offers easy savings. Some experts estimate that about half the water we use on our landscapes is wasted to due to evaporation, overwatering and run-off.

In the report, we calculated how much water each of these 18 cities could save every day during the summer if they cut outdoor water use by 25%. The potential is staggering:

  • Austin: 13.9 million gallons a day
  • Dallas: 22.7 million gallons a day
  • Fort Worth: 27.6 million gallons a day
  • Houston: 17.6 million gallons a day
  • Plano: 10.4 million gallons a day

Is a 25% reduction in outdoor water use realistic? Cities around the country have proved it is possible time and time again. One local example: the San Antonio Water System estimates it has cut outdoor water use by 30%.

The report recommends seven efficiency measures that have a proven track report at reducing landscaping water use. Read More »

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Ft. Worth, Resources, san antonio, Water Conservation, Water Planning | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have your voice heard on the future of the Edwards Aquifer

As Dianne Wassenich posted recently, a lot of work has been done to determine the future of the Edwards Aquifer through the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (RIP) process. Now they are seeking public input from you.

The latest data indicated that pumping would have to be cut by 86 percent during a drought to maintain sufficient flow at the San Marcos and Comal springs for species protection.  "The proposed solutions include storing the added water in the aquifer itself by recirculating with pipes; pumping Edwards Aquifer water into the neighboring Carrizo Aquifer where the sand formation can hold the water until needed later; storing floodwater in small reservoirs above the aquifer; and filling local quarries."

The final decision is very important since 2 million people rely on this aquifer, not to mention its importance for species, recreation and agriculture. If the stakeholders cannot agree on a solution by 2012 that the United States Fish and Wildlife will approve, the management of the aquifer could be determined by lawsuits or the state legislature.

Posted in Central Texas, Edwards Aquifer, Rivers, san antonio, Water Planning, Wildlife Preservation | Also tagged , , | Leave a comment

Edwards Aquifer “RIP” seeks water harmony between people and nature

Guest post by Dianne Wassenich.  Dianne is the executive director for San Marcos River Foundation.  She holds a seat on the steering committee of the EARIP, and serves as its Public Outreach Chair.

The Edwards Aquifer, located in Central Texas, is a unique groundwater system providing water to almost two million people, agriculture and many native species. Two decades of litigation and legislation have not solved the “wildlife vs. people” issues that can arise in the Edwards Aquifer, particularly during dry periods.  But serious progress is being made toward a solution through a collaborative, consensus-based, stakeholder process called the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP). The goal of the group is to develop a plan to protect federally-listed endangered species, while balancing the region’s water needs and avoiding future litigation.

Why it matters

Comal and San Marcos springs, which provide the base flow for the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers, are fed by the Edwards Aquifer. Recent computer models predict that a drought similar to the 1950’s drought of record would dry up Comal Springs for two years, and the San Marcos Springs would be in jeopardy. The aquifer also feeds the San Antonio and Nueces Rivers.

In addition to putting many endangered species at risk, low spring flows create low river flows, which negatively affect wildlife and limits water supply for other uses impacting Edwards Aquifer-area and downstream communities, farmers and ranchers, and industries. The flow of these rivers is also critical to the health of the bays and estuaries which depends on freshwater inflows for fish and wildlife. 

Who is Involved

The EARIP was originally convened by US Fish and Wildlife (USFW) and codified by SB3 in the 2007 Texas Legislative session.  The group is tasked with developing a management plan by 2012.  Since its inception, a wide variety of stakeholders have been meeting often to accomplish this task, including: water utilities, environmental groups, cities, river authorities, agricultural and industrial users, downstream and coastal interests, and state and federal agencies. To date, stakeholders have raised almost $1million and over $2 million have been granted by USFW and Texas Legislature through the Texas Water Development Board. 

Moving toward a solution

The EARIP is on track to submit a Habitat Conservation Plan to the USFW for approval by September, 2012.  

 The group is currently deciding what aquifer management changes and other measures are needed to protect the federally listed species.  Several subcommittees have reviewed scientific studies and made recommendations, and more evaluations and studies are being completed this summer.  Recharge projects are being considered as well as many other kinds of projects that would protect the species during very dry times. 

Get Involved

In April, public meetings about the Habitat Conservation Plan will be held in seven counties in the Edwards Aquifer region, stretching from Kerrville to Corpus Christi. 

Dates, locations and information about the process are available online. Comments on the program can be submitted on the site until June 2, 2010.

Learn more at: http://earip.tamu.edu/. 

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Edwards Aquifer, Groundwater, Legislature, Resources, san antonio, SB3, Water Planning | Also tagged , , , , | 1 Response

Well designed rates can reduce water usage – just ask San Antonio

In an effort to further reduce water use, San Antonio Water System (SAWS) proposed a new rate structure to the City Council on Wednesday that would penalize high-volume users while rewarding those who use less.  The new rate structure will reduce rates for normal households, using 7,000-8,000 gallons per month, while increasing rates for the top 7% of all users by 13.8%. SAWS is hoping that the change will impact behavior, causing high users to use less.  Saved water can reduce the need for a utility to find new supply or build new infrastructure, which can be very expensive. 

Last November, Austin implemented a long awaited fifth tier for customers using more than 25,000 gallons a month. Unfortunately, many Texas cities do not have a conservation oriented rate structure.  Hopefully, these cities can learn a lesson from their neighbors as an effective way to save money and save water.

Posted in Austin, san antonio, Water Conservation | Also tagged , , , | Leave a comment