142 Miles of pipeline will transport water from Burleson County to San Antonio. Image courtesy of SAWS.
142-mile pipeline will transport water from Burleson County to San Antonio. Image courtesy of SAWS.

We know with certainty that San Antonio’s rapidly growing population will put increasing pressure on the city’s water supply. San Antonio is expected to grow by nearly 30% by 2030, adding more than 600,000 new residents.

We know that climate change is likely to exacerbate water scarcity in Texas in general, and in South Texas in particular. As our population grows, state climatologist and Texas A&M University Professor John Nielsen-Gammon estimates that climate change will reduce the state’s water supply by five to 15% over the next 50 years.

We know that San Antonio Water System (SAWS) is a national leader in water conservation. SAWS’ efforts have reduced per capita water consumption from 225 gallons per day in the mid-1980s to less than 140 gallons today, with a goal of 116 gallons per day.

Finally, we know that because of population growth and climate change, conservation is not enough. In order to ensure an ample water supply for a growing, economically vibrant city, San Antonio must secure sources of water beyond the Edwards Aquifer. In fact, a federal ruling in 1993 restricted withdrawals from the Edwards Aquifer, compelling San Antonio to conserve the water it had while searching for new sources.

SAWS has acted responsibly to meet the need for conservation. After some failed efforts, SAWS has now acted to secure a new water supply. The Vista Ridge Pipeline will, when completed, meet 20% of San Antonio’s water needs. The water will come from the vast, drought-resistant Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in Burleson and Milam counties.

A worker installs a portion of pipeline. Photo courtesy of SAWS Facebook page.
A worker installs a portion of pipeline. Photo courtesy of SAWS Facebook page.

How vast? According to the Texas Water Development Board, there is as much as 170 million acre-feet of water in the aquifer in Milam and Burleson counties alone. That’s roughly four times the size of the entire Edwards Aquifer. Yet while Bexar County has 1.8 million residents, Burleson and Milam counties have 41,000 residents combined.

(Read more about it here.)

And how drought resistant? The permits for the Vista Ridge Project from the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District limit production from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer to 50,000 acre-feet of water annually — a minute fraction of the estimated recoverable storage. If SAWS receives 50,000 acre-feet per year for 30 years, there will be less than a 1% drawdown on the aquifer’s total storage.

Finally, under the contract SAWS negotiated, Abengoa Vista Ridge assumes a significant portion of the regulatory, technical and financial risk associated with the project. SAWS and its ratepayers will only pay for water that is delivered or made available under the terms of the contract, and at a guaranteed fixed price for 30 years.

Yet some opponents of the Vista Ridge Project, such as Meredith McGuire, claim that water from the Vista Ridge pipeline will come at the expense of SAWS’ conservation efforts, that the water may not be available if the drought persists, and that the project puts the City of San Antonio at financial risk.

The facts here are clear. San Antonio needs new water sources, in addition to conservation, for the future. SAWS continues to do an exemplary job in the field of conservation, and SAWS has acted wisely to secure a long-term water source under a fixed-price agreement that limits the risk to San Antonio ratepayers.

*Featured/top image: Map of the planned pipeline between Burleson and Bexar Counties. Image courtesy of San Antonio Water System.

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Michael D. Beldon

Michael D. Beldon is the chairman of Beldon Enterprises. He is the former chairman of the Edwards Aquifer Authority, and the former chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. He served as treasurer...