A bill that would allow the San Antonio Water System to sell water from the Edwards Aquifer to developers in fast-growing Kendall County has been blocked after a veto from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Included in a series of vetoes last week was Abbott’s denial of House Bill 1806, sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Tracy O. King of Uvalde, with a Senate companion sponsored by Republican Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels. That bill would have allowed SAWS to sell water from the Edwards Aquifer to counties outside the boundaries of the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), the government entity that regulates pumping of the aquifer.

Created by the Texas Legislature to manage the Edwards, a limestone rock layer that serves as the largest water source in the San Antonio region, the EAA has a territory that covers Uvalde, Medina, and Bexar counties and parts of Atascosa, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe, and Hays counties. HB 1806 would have allowed the sale of Edwards water in counties adjacent to those, something currently not allowed under State law.

In his veto announcement, Abbott, a Republican, said the EAA was set up to have all water well permit holders in that area represented on its board of directors. Collectively, board members are meant to represent all who rely on Edwards Aquifer water.

“This bill goes in the opposite direction by elevating the rights of one user above all others,” the announcement states. “Vetoing this bill maintains the careful balance of water rights within the Edwards Aquifer Authority and ensures that the resources of the aquifer remain protected.”

The issue came up in the most recent legislative session because of SAWS’ plans to begin providing water to new developments on the fringe of Boerne, especially one new development on property known as the Biedenharn tract. Some residents and water advocates have said the bill would pave the way for SAWS to subsidize sprawl in Kendall County by selling cheap Edwards Aquifer water over the county line.

SAWS is allocating water service for a neighborhood development in Kendall County near Boerne Texas.
A portion of the Biedenhorn tract, also known as Boerne West Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

SAWS officials have countered that they intended to provide Edwards water only as a potential backup to water from other SAWS sources, such as Canyon Lake, and that they had no intention of selling water farther afield at relatively cheap Edwards Aquifer prices.

SAWS lobbyists agreed to bill language that would have limited exports to 1.9 billion gallons per year and only 480 million gallons per year in Kendall County. SAWS would also have had to get consent from Kendall County commissioners.

In a prepared statement, Donovan Burton, SAWS vice president of water resources and governmental relations, said the utility is disappointed with Abbott’s veto.

Laws that regulate transmission of water “impact SAWS’ ability to plan for affordable and reliable water for our community,” Burton said. “This is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.  These laws inhibit regional water partnerships that are critical to our economic viability.  We will continue communicating with state leaders about the need to focus water policy on science and regional cooperation.”

Burton also said SAWS will be able to supply water to the Biedenharn tract, also known as Boerne West, from its Canyon Lake supply.

In a phone interview, EAA General Manager Roland Ruiz told the Rivard Report that the EAA had decided to remain neutral on the bill.

Ruiz said the bill would not have affected the total pumping cap on all the water withdrawn from the Edwards Aquifer per year, nor any of the other permits and regulations in place to ensure enough water remains for all users, including endangered species that rely on aquifer-fed springs.

Asked whether the bill could have led to exporting of Edwards water outside the region, Ruiz said all the other regulations around the Edwards would likely have prevented that.

“This bill was limited to adjacent counties,” he said. “Under that scenario, you wouldn’t see huge pipelines transporting Edwards water outside the region to other regions.”

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.