Director of IRNR Raul Lopez gives a statement to city staff. Photo by Scott Ball.
Director of IRNR Raul Lopez explains the peer review process for the water report to the Committee. Photo by Scott Ball.

City officials, community leaders, and any interested citizen can now download the final version of a controversial Water Policy Report from the Texas A&M University’s Institute of Renewable Natural Resources that analyzes projects and policies related to water supply and water security for the City of San Antonio and City of Fair Oaks Ranch.

Click here to download the report, which was released Thursday afternoon on the IRNR and City websites.

“I’m pleased that the analyses are now made public, fully, and we have multiple perspectives on how we can mange the opportunities and opportunity costs of long-term water security,” said Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8), who originally requested the report, on Thursday afternoon.

This means City Council is on track to vote on proposed water utility rate increases and a new rate structure on Nov. 19, a vote that was postponed from a date in October until the final report was released.

District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg
Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8). Photo by Scott Ball.

Nirenberg said he will have to “read the report in its entirety” before deciding on how he’ll be voting, and that he’ll also be drawing from conversations he has had with his colleagues,  and constituents in one-on-one meetings and public forums.

The study will be discussed during four City Council meetings, all open to the public:

  • Thursday, 9 a.m., Nov. 12, City Council A Session: water policy study briefing by IRNR
  • Thursday, 6 p.m., Nov. 12, City Council A Session: citizens to be heard (public comment)
  • Wednesday, 6 p.m., Nov. 18, City Council B Session: citizens to be heard (public comment)
  • Thursday, 9.am., Nov. 19, City Council A Session; final vote preceded by citizens to be heard  (public comment)

The 187-page report has been sent to all 10 City Council members and the mayor directly and will take some time to digest, Nirenberg said, 48 fewer than the draft report that was leaked in September. Redundancies have been deleted and information streamlined for a more readable report. While the final report is shorter, additional perspectives from a scientific review panel (SRP), comprised of researchers at Texas A&M in College Station, have been added and highlighted.

City and San Antonio Water System leadership criticized the draft report for including “inaccuracies, omissions, and opinions” – especially regarding risk analysis of the Vista Ridge project. Calvin Finch, formerly the lead scientist at IRNR, was the lead author of the report. He has since retired from the IRNR. Finch could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Opponents of the Vista Ridge water pipeline project have used the draft report to reignite protests against the project that SAWS and the City hope will bring 16.3 billion gallons of water from the Carrizo Aquifer in Burleson County annually for an estimated 60 years by 2020. Where the $3.4 billion Vista Ridge project is rated as a “high risk” project in Finch’s report, the final report categorizes Vista Ridge as having a “medium” uncertainty rating.

Draft report's risk analysis summary.
Draft report’s “risk analysis” summary that appears in the final report.
Final report's uncertainty ratings.
Final report’s “uncertainty rating” summary.

A preliminary read indicates that the “essence” of Finch’s draft remains in the report, as promised in October by the final report’s lead author, IRNR Director Roel Lopez. Additional context and research by the SRP has been added – that in some cases refutes mathematically biased claims in the drafts.

“What we essentially have now is two reports (in one) from highly credible scientists and water experts,” Nirenberg said. “Both are intended to be non-prescriptive … and will provide good context for this council and future councils when making important decisions.”

Nirenberg initiated the $100,000 report in February 2014. Funds received from the City of Fair Oaks paid for the study. Release of the report was delayed for months.

“Discrepancies between Dr. Finch, the sponsors, and San Antonio Water System (SAWS), with respect to relevant data, their availability and general revision completion, coupled with Dr. Finch’s subsequent retirement, and a media leak of a preliminary draft, delayed completion of the report,” the report’s executive summary now states.

Nirenberg said the objective was not to commission a report offering policy recommendation. The report, he said, is intended to inform the public and policy makers.

“Anyone looking for this report to say Council should do X, Y, or, Z is going to be disappointed,” Nirenberg said. “Ultimately, it will still be determined on a political bench, but now we have the confidence that better, comprehensive info (is being used to) base those decisions. And that is a good thing.”

The Rivard Report will continue its analysis of the final report and seek further comments from its authors and key players in the water community. Stay tuned for more coverage.

*Top image: Director of IRNR Roel Lopez explains the peer review process for the water report to the City’s Transportation, Technology and Utilities Committee in October 2015. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Water Forum VI: Vista Ridge, Conservation, Rate Increase

Vista Ridge Deal Dominates UTSA Water Symposium

Vista Ridge Project To Dominate Two Water Forums

City Council to Delay Votes on SAWS Rate Increase, Annexation

Controversial Water Report to Get Peer Review

SAWS Board Briefed on Rate Increase, Meter Readers, Water Report 

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org