A crew working on an energy pipeline punctured the Vista Ridge water pipeline in Caldwell County Thursday while digging in the area, said a San Antonio Water System official.

The crew members were working on the Permian Highway Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline for Kinder Morgan, a Houston energy infrastructure company. The Vista Ridge pipeline pumps in water to San Antonio from underground aquifers just northeast of Austin.

The damage was not severe, said Steve Clouse, SAWS senior vice president and chief operating officer. The puncture occurred Thursday near Lockhart in a mostly rural area, with no city or highway nearby that could be impacted by the leak.

“It’s a pinhole in your water hose in your garden, if you want to think of it that way,” Clouse said. “This is not flooding out. The number I heard was estimated at 60,000 gallons that have leaked out. When you think of the magnitude of the pipe, it’s inconsequential.”

Clouse estimated repairing the 60-inch diameter water pipeline would take two to five days. Service to San Antonio Water System customers will not be affected, he said. 

“The hole was not significant enough where we had to immediately shut down the system,” he said.

SAWS has filled water tanks from the Vista Ridge pipeline to supply customers with water during the repair process. If repairs take more than two days to complete, SAWS can pipe in water from other sources, such as the Trinity Aquifer or the Edwards Aquifer, Clouse said.

“No one will notice the difference in San Antonio,” Clouse said. “There won’t be a loss of water pressure or anything.”

SAWS does not pay for Vista Ridge pipeline maintenance, Clouse said, adding that he did not know exactly how the damage occurred.

“Whether [the area] wasn’t properly marked or whether the contractor just didn’t follow proper procedure after it was marked, I don’t have those details yet,” he said.

Allen Fore, vice president of public affairs for Kinder Morgan, said the company is investigating the incident. He said he believed the natural gas pipeline contractor working in Caldwell County made the prerequisite inquiry about other underground infrastructure in the area and was given no indication of the Vista Ridge pipeline’s existence.

“That’s the typical process and the one we followed in this case,” Fore said. “But we obviously want to work with the water agency. Whenever there’s an incident of any kind, we work with stakeholders and coordinate.”

There is no Permian Highway project pipe installed yet in Caldwell County, Fore said. Once crews have finished digging, they will lay about 29 miles of pipe in the county. The Permian Highway Pipeline will be about 430 miles long, extending from West Texas to the Katy area.

“It won’t be in service and no gas will be in line until later this year or next year,” Fore said.

Construction on the Permian Highway Pipeline around the Vista Ridge pipeline has been halted until the water line is fixed, Fore said.

The puncture in the Vista Ridge pipeline is leaking around 60 gallons to 80 gallons of water a minute, Clouse said. He was told that Garney Construction, which built the pipeline, had been planning to start the repair process on Saturday morning. Garney did not respond to requests for comment.

This is the second time an energy pipeline has potentially impacted the water supply for San Antonians. Houston-based Enterprise Partner Products proposed building a crude oil pipeline over the Edwards Aquifer last year. Those plans were eventually scrapped after area landowners spoke out about them.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.