A mayor propelled into office by her predecessor’s departure for Washington and a former mayor who said he missed the opportunity to diversify San Antonio’s water supply in the 1980s joined other business and civic leaders in front of City Hall on Tuesday to call on City Council to unanimously approve the Vista Ridge water deal.
All indications are the 30-year, $3.4 billion project that will start with construction of a 142-mile pipeline from Burleson County and deliver 50,000 acre-feet of water to San Antonio by 2020 is heading toward unanimous 11-0 City Council approval on Thursday. The press conference aimed to build more public confidence in the city’s strategy to achieve long-term water security and sustain robust economic development in one of the fast-growing metro areas in the nation.
The morning press conference began as an event organized by District 9 Councilmember Joe Krier and the leadership of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, where Krier served as CEO for 20 years, to urge approval of the Vista Ridge deal. The group expanded when Mayor Ivy Taylor decided to appear. She and Krier were joined by former Mayor Henry Cisneros, who is the San Antonio Chamber’s chair-elect for 2015, and current chair David McGee, as well as the Chamber’s President and CEO Richard Perez, and past chairs Mike Beldon (1990) and Jim Reed (1994), both current board members.
Krier spoke briefly, saying he was going to introduce “two great visionary mayors” who support the Vista Ridge deal “because we believe it is critical to economic development and future jobs.”
Chamber Board Chairman David McGee stopped short of openly referring to climate change being a factor in the Southwest environment, but he noted that Tuesday’s temperatures were “15 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year.”
“I don’t know of another city in the country where the weatherman gives the aquifer count every day,” said McGee, president and CEO of Amegy Bank San Antonio.
Collectively, there was a lot of San Antonio water history speaking Tuesday.
“Water is a very important commodity in building a great city,” said Cisneros. “When a city has an opportunity to acquire water it should take it.”
Cisneros recalled a decision by City Council in the 1980s when he was mayor (1981-89) to pass on a long-term, Canyon Lake water purchase that in hindsight has been widely lamented as a lost opportunity. He also mentioned failed efforts in 1991 to win voter approval of the construction of the Applewhite Reservoir on the Southside, and another failed effort in 1994 to win voter approval of the 2050 Water Plan put forward in 1993 under then-Mayor Nelson Wolff.
(SAWS maintains a History & Chronology section on its website for readers to explore past events more deeply.)
“When I was mayor in the 1980s, we had 800,000 people, and today we have 1.4 million, the game has changed,” Cisneros said. “Vista Ridge assures that we will have guaranteed water security for decades at stable prices. This is a historic opportunity.”
Beldon, who built Beldon Roofing Co. and has been active in civic affairs for four decades, served as the very first chairman of the Edwards Aquifer Authority, which was created by the Texas Legislature in 1993, with additional legislation in 1995 creating an elected, 15-person board.
He recalled a time when San Antonio “could pump as much water from the Edwards Aquifer as we pleased.” An Endangered Species Act lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club in 1991 seeking protection of the Comal and San Marcos Springs changed that and led San Antonio’s newly created water utility, the San Antonio Water System, to embark on an unprecedented water conservation program while seeking ways to diversity the city’s water supply.
“I’ve seen project after project after project fall short over the years,” Beldon said, urging approval of Vista Ridge.
Mayor Taylor spoke next and challenged critics who have called for City Council to cancel the vote and subject the proposed contract to renegotiations or greater public review.
“Over the pasts several months we’ve been deliberating,” Taylor said, adding that a series of public meetings and hearings, as well as public contract negotiations conducted by SAWS and Vista Ridge, have given people ample opportunity to understand the scope of the project and the contractual protections granted SAWS and the City.
“We are going to grow and we need to grow more thoughtfully,” Taylor said, disagreeing with critics who say a greater supply of water will spur greater sprawl. “I’d encourage citizens to get involved in our comprehensive planning process.”
Taylor then read a letter from U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert D. LaBrutta, commander of Joint Base San Antonio Fort Sam Houston, who briefed City Council on Oct. 15 on the Stage IV water restrictions now in effect at all area military installations, triggered by a fall in the J-17 well below 630 feet at Fort Sam Houston, which occurred on Aug. 14.
“Since my arrival on May 29, 2013, we have been in either Stage III or Stage IV water restrictions for the majority of my command,” Gen. LaBrutta wrote. “These restrictions are having a dramatic, negative impact on our grounds, our trees, housing and facility foundations. and are increasing the overall fire safety hazard on Joint Base San Antonio.”
City officials have said future infrastructure built to distribute water in San Antonio is going to have to include the military bases to make sure water shortages do not make them more vulnerable to closure when the next Base realignment and Closure Commission begins its work.
“No one here today will deny the incredible impact the military has had and has today on San Antonio,” Taylor said as she concluded her reading. The time to act is now. I’m confident our City Council will make the right decision and secure our water future.”
*Featured/top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor speaks in support of Vista Ridge deal on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Robert Rivard.