Map of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone from the ArcGIS mapping tool.
Map of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone from the ArcGIS mapping tool.

Nearly three months after approving the $3.4 billion Vista Ridge water purchase and pipeline deal, City Council now appears poised to authorize renewal of two landmark propositions that have funded protection of the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and development of the Howard Peak Greenway Trails System for the last 15 years. The program has protected 133,447 acres of ranchland over the aquifer recharge zone in Bexar and surrounding counties, and funded development of 46 miles of trailways and protected more than 1,200 acres of creekside land.

Mayor Ivy Taylor appeared to throw her support behind Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) in an email sent Friday to some aquifer protection advocates that was titled “Proposition 1 and 2 Reauthorization.”

District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg
District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg. Photo by Scott Ball.

“Mayor Ivy Taylor and Councilman Ron Nirenberg are uniting to achieve the goals of protecting the Edwards Aquifer and advancing the linear creekway system,” the text of the email stated. “The Edwards Aquifer conservation easement purchase program will continue unchanged and fully funded. The creekway park development program will be accelerated. Both renewals will last for approximately five years based on projected sales tax revenue, to be collected beginning in 2016.

“If the renewals are approved by voters the mission of aquifer protection will be further enhanced through the development of an urban areas aquifer protection demonstration program while conservation easement acquisition will continue at its current pace.The recreational and water quality vision of the linear creekway park program will be expanded through voter authorization of additional funding.”

District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, right before the meeting that confirmed her as mayor of San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mayor Ivy Taylor. Photo by Scott Ball.

The copy provided to the Rivard Report was unsigned, but Nirenberg said in an interview that the statement was jointly prepared by Mayor Taylor’s office and his office. Mayor Taylor was in Washington DC at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting and could not be reached for comment.

“It is abundantly clear to city leadership and the public that protecting the aquifer and advancing green spaces in San Antonio are a priority, if not a sacred balance we all need to strike,” Nirenberg said. “In addition to that, we have two programs that have been held up as international models and have been approved by voters with resounding majorities for the last 15 years. We need to continue building the city on that record of success.”

Council members appeared to be divided during early discussion of the proposed five-year renewal of a program that began in 2000 and has been renewed every five years since then. Mayor Ivy Taylor, Councilmember Joe Krier (D9) and others have questioned whether the money collected via a 1/8 cent sales tax might be reallocated to other projects. Krier had asked how many more years the program would have to remain in effect before completion of the protections.

“Water security will never be a box we can check off as done in San Antonio, so protection of the aquifer will always be important,” Nirenberg said.

Speculation about reallocating part or all of the sales tax revenues was met with strong expressions of public support for renewal of the two propositions. Former Mayor Phil Hardberger, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, and Bonnie Connor, the former chair of the San Antonio Parks Foundation and a former Council member, are among those who publicly called on Mayor Taylor and Council to let voters renew the programs.

Gen. Robert Labrutta, who commands Joint Base San Antonio and the 85,000 personnel stationed at the four major area military installations, sent a letter to Mayor Taylor and all Council members on Thursday detailing the military’s interest in seeing the aquifer protections extended for another five years, citing concerns over long-term water supply to the bases and the importance of protecting undeveloped lands at Camp Bullis where the Endangered Species Act comes into play to protect nesting habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler.

Voters have approved the protections by large majorities in all three previous elections.

The City’s Governance Committee, chaired by Mayor Taylor, will take up the matter in its monthly meeting on Wednesday and then is expected to be placed on the Thursday Council agenda for a vote. If approved, as expected, Propositions 1 and 2 would be placed on the May 9 ballot when voters will be choosing a mayor, 10 City Council members, and also could be voting on charter reform.

The vote could be a unanimous one if Krier decides to support the initiative. He said Friday he has a briefing scheduled next week with City staff and SAWS to gain a better understanding of how much more land over the recharge zone needs to be protected and what the cost and duration of the program likely will be. Krier said he would like to see an eventual completion date for the aquifer protection land purchases, and he would like to see more of the funds focused on purchases in Bexar County. The Edwards Recharge Zone stretches across multiple South Texas counties.

A map of conservation easements on the Edwards Aquifer.
A map of conservation easements on the Edwards Aquifer.
District 9 Councilman Joe Krier talks with citizens before the Council's special session to elect an interim mayor. Photo by Scott Ball.
District 9 Councilman Joe Krier talks with citizens before a City Council meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.

“I am always inclined to support the mayor, but the last time I talked to Mayor Taylor she was still trying to work out some modification,” Krier said, “and not having spoken with her while she is in Washington, I’m not sure sh has been able to do that. We will talk tomorrow and I’ll know more after next week’s briefings.”

If the two propositions are placed on the ballot, voters will vote yes or no to extend the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program – not to exceed $100 million collected over approximately five years, 2016-2021, through the Edwards Aquifer Protection Venue Project, defined by ordinance as, “The acquisition or preservation of land or interests in land for conservation easement or open space preservation, or the development of a recharge, recharge area or recharge feature protection project, in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge and Contributing Zones both inside and outside Bexar County intended to protect water in the Edwards Aquifer.”

The Proposition 1 funds would be divided, with $90 million reserved for the conservation easement purchase program and $10 million reserved for construction of recharge area/recharge feature protection demonstration projects.

The Proposition 2 funds dedicated to the Linear Creekway Parks Development program would be capped at $80 million collected over approximately five years, 2016-2021, through the Parks Development and Expansion Venue Project, defined by ordinance as, “The acquisition of open space and linear parks along San Antonio’s creekways and their tributaries, such as Leon Creek, Salado Creek, Apache Creek, Alazan Creek, Martinez Creek, San Pedro Creek, Medina River and San Antonio River, and for improvements and additions to the municipal parks and recreation system.”

Hikers and cyclists utilizing the popular Salado Creek Greenway even before completion while under construction. Photo by Julia Murphy.
Hikers and cyclists utilizing the popular Salado Creek Greenway even before completion while under construction. Photo by Julia Murphy.

Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, reacted with enthusiasm to the news the initiatives seem all but certain now to come up for renewal.

“I think it would be safe to say that GEAA totally supports City Council voting to putting the reauthorization of Props 1 and 2 on the ballot for the May election, and that we are delighted with the addition of funding for watershed protection measures to better protect the creeks and the Edwards Aquifer,” Peace said. “We look forward to seeing a big crowd of folks who support this at the Jan. 29 City Council meeting.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance as the Greater Edwards Aquifer Authority.

*Featured/top image: Map of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone from the ArcGIS mapping tool

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Conversation: Grant Ellis and the Backbone of Aquifer ProtectionCity Acts to Protect Bracken Cave’s Bat Colony

Upstream Without a Paddle: Seeking Protection for Edwards Aquifer

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.