The Edwards Aquifer Authority's headquarters are located at 900 E. Quincy Ave.
The Edwards Aquifer Authority's headquarters are located at 900 E. Quincy Ave. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

The Edwards Aquifer Authority has chosen a familiar face to represent parts of north-central San Antonio on its board of directors.

At its March meeting Tuesday, seven board members voted to approve Susan Hughes, who previously served more than 20 years on the EAA board, to take up the District 3 seat formerly held by Rebekah J. Bustamante, who recently resigned. 

Hughes was immediately sworn in to the board of the authority, created in 1993 by the Texas Legislature to manage the Edwards Aquifer, a vast limestone rock layer that holds the largest source of drinking water in the San Antonio region.

Susan Hughes
Susan Hughes

Hughes formerly represented District 6 from 1996 to 2017, when she moved out of that district’s boundaries. She has served as board vice president and in leadership roles in many environmental organizations, including Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas, Texas Master Naturalists, and the National Audubon Society.

Before the vote, Hughes held up a tiny replica of the authority’s first water permit issued in 2001 in Hondo. She called the authority a “trailblazer in terms of water management in Texas” but told the board it should “take a pause” and reexamine some of its fundamental roles, including maintaining the quality of water in the aquifer.

She also suggested board members spend more time together, as they did in the early days, to help its 17 members understand the diverse interests spread across Uvalde, Medina and Bexar counties, and parts of Atascosa, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe, and Hays counties.

“We were irrigators, we were the gargantuan gorilla in the room of San Antonio, we were the spring communities,” she said, adding that board members getting to know one another helped them see personalities behind those roles.

The board also considered independent groundwater hydrologist George Rice and civil engineer Abelardo “Abe” Salinas III for the position.

“Susan is a great choice,” Rice said after the vote. “I was impressed with Abe too. This is a good day for the aquifer.”

Jim Smyle, a former World Bank natural resource manager, applied for the position but later withdrew, Board Chair Luana Buckner said.

Before the vote, Buckner said she couldn’t remember the last time the EAA had “three such qualified candidates” for an open seat.

Hughes ended up getting seven votes on the first round of voting, the minimum needed for victory.

Buckner, Deborah Carington, Rader Gilleland, Byron Miller, Pat Stroka, Scott Yanta, and Ben Youngblood voted for Hughes. Ron Ellis, Don Laffere, and Carol Patterson voted for Salinas. Kathleen Krueger, Enrique Valdivia, and Ron Walton voted for Rice.

The board could see a significant shakeup later this year, with Districts 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, and 15 up for reelection in November.

In a text message, Salinas said the authority is “in good hands” with Hughes but added he plans to run for the seat later this year.

“I have the background, the passion, and temperament to collaborate, bridge networks, and help guide the EAA’s policy and strategy,” he said. “Come November, I will be looking to build upon the foundation [Hughes] has helped create and evolving it with some new perspectives.”

Rice said he does not plan to run in November.

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