Editor’s note: Thursday afternoon, the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (GEAA) released the following statement regarding next Monday’s vote by the SAWS Board on a long-term contract with the Vista Ridge Consortium to annually pipe 50,000 acre-feet of water drawn from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in western Burleson County 140 miles to San Antonio. A response from SAWS Board Chair Bert Guerra, who strongly supports moving the project forward, follows. Read more about the project and proposed contract here: SAWS Poised to Vote on Landmark Water Deal.
Statement From the Edwards Aquifer:
At the SAWS Board briefing of September 22nd it was decided that SAWS would reschedule their Oct. 7 Board meeting to Sept. 29 in order to rush a vote to approve the Vista Ridge Pipeline project to import 50,000 acre feet/year of water to San Antonio and other communities in the Hill Country along the IH 35 and US 281 corridors. The 522 page draft contract for this $3.4 billion deal was posted on-line on Sept. 23, giving the SAWS Board and the public less than a week to review a deal that will have far reaching implications for our community, including an estimated 16% rate hike for SAWS customers.
Concerned citizens and representatives from San Antonio’s civic organizations sought the advice of a contract attorney to review the Vista Ridge contract. This action by the SAWS Board will make a conscientious review impossible. It is estimated the Financial Close on this deal will take place 18 to 30 months after approval of the Commercial Close. It appears that SAWS Board Chairman, Berto Guerra is insisting that the SAWS Board vote to approve the contract with no time for proper consideration, an action that we, as SAWS rate payers, consider irresponsible and disrespectful.
Our understanding is that after the vote on Monday, the SAWS Board will urge City Council to vote on the contract within the month of October. This will be a vote by a body of two temporary Council members and an interim Mayor.
SAWS announced that they are going to conduct a series of community outreach meetings after they vote to approve the contract, when any citizen concerns will be moot and these “outreach” meetings will be nothing more than a series of infomercials. During the public hearings SAWS conducted for the 2012 Water Management Plan, SAWS heard loud and clear from citizens who said that they did not want to pay higher water rates to subsidize new development on the north side. The Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, COPS/Metro, Alamo Group of the Sierra Club, and others urge the SAWS Board to postpone the vote until after they, and we, have had ample time to review the contract, and until meaningful hearings to solicit feedback from citizens have been accomplished.
We urge citizens to contact SAWS Board members, the Mayor, and their City Council representatives to slow down the process for making a decision on this deal to allow for input from SAWS rate payers and a reasoned discussion of the full impacts to our city’s environment and economy. Citizens may contact the SAWS Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Statement from SAWS Board Chair Berto Guerra:
The process to achieve a contract with Vista Ridge has been three years in the making. This project will help protect the Edwards Aquifer while preparing San Antonio for drought and future economic prosperity for our children and grandchildren.
Upon selecting Vista Ridge, a committee appointed by the Board of Trustees – which included Trustee Reed Williams, SAWS staff, and me – has negotiated on behalf of the Board and recommended a deal that is fair and beneficial for our community.
Since July, we have negotiated the contract in seven posted meetings that were open to the public and attended by the news media, elected officials, environmental groups and the general public. Every contractual element was discussed and reviewed in unprecedented transparency before I disbanded the Committee in September. Furthermore, SAWS Board has held ten public meetings in which this proposal, and the subsequent contract negotiations have been discussed openly. In fact, contract terms have been a matter of public record since as early as late July.
We have noted many times during this three-month negotiation process that time is critical and have always voiced our goal of having the contract to SAWS Board by September, and to Council by October. There has been no secret about that goal, which is precisely why the negotiations were held in open public meetings.
SAWS Board approval is only the first step in the approval process. The City Council will consider the contract as well, providing additional ample opportunity for further public review.
Unlike some, I believe in our current Mayor and City Council members, and I trust that they are perfectly capable of wading through difficult issues and making informed decisions for our future. Waiting for a new City Council is not the answer, and only seeks to delay an important decision for our future. Delays in approving the Vista Ridge contract will risk potential increased costs to our ratepayers due to the fluctuation of market interest rates.
The time for courage is now. I urge my Board of Trustee colleagues and the City Council to approve this contract for the largest non-Edwards supply in San Antonio history.
*Featured/top image: SAWS Headquarters at 2800 U.S. Hwy 281 North.