Protestors stand in front of City Hall opposing the Vista Ridge pipeline. Photo by Scott Ball.
Protestors stand in front of City Hall opposing the Vista Ridge pipeline in November 2015. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

I’ll jump right in: It is morally wrong to grow a city through dependence on water from a distant ecosystem which will need that water in the future. Furthermore, the Los Angeles model of piping water from other basins hundreds of miles away is inherently unsustainable for the long term. This will become more evident as the southwest United States dries out over the next 50 years as a result of climate change.

The Vista Ridge Pipeline Project is a short-term boon for land developers who want to fill the fragile Hill Country with subdivisions. The native aquifers, rivers, and ecosystems cannot support heavy population growth. Vista Ridge will bring in water from an aquifer 150 miles away to enable as much sprawl as possible.

Who benefits from Vista Ridge? The sprawl merchants – all those businesses and governments which have grown to depend on ever-expanding population growth. But certainly not most current citizens of the metroplex, who will pay for it. And certainly not those in the Bastrop County area, whose groundwater is being appropriated against their will.

We should abide by the carrying capacity of our own semi-arid region with its huge Edwards Aquifer. That means saving the $3 billion to be spent on Vista Ridge. We should instead:

  • Conserve the water we have by not wasting 40% of it on non-native plants like St. Augustine grass.
  • Create a SAWS-sponsored program to make rainwater catchment the standard for every residential and commercial building.
  • Develop, as other cities have, a storm water catchment system to provide abundant water and reduce flooding.
  • Reduce per capita water use from 120 gallons per day to 60 or less.
  • Use, when necessary, the desalination, storage, and re-use systems already developed by SAWS, which the public utility declared sufficient for future needs in February 2014.

We should also recognize that an official government policy of encouraging population growth will not add to the quality of life for our citizens.

San Antonio Water System is a publicly owned utility whose purpose is to provide water to the citizens of San Antonio, its owners, at a reasonable price. Vista Ridge transforms SAWS into a profit-seeking regional water purveyor.

Can Vista Ridge be stopped? Only if we convince the San Antonio City Council to stop it. That is one of the reasons the May 2017 General Election is so important.

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Darby Riley

Darby Riley practices law with his son Charles in the firm of Riley & Riley. He is an environmental activist and currently the chair of the Political Committee of the local Sierra Club.