2060: SA looks forward, protects drinking water

2060: SA looks forward, protects drinking water
Courtesy of The Edwards Aquifer Authority

In just 14 years, the City of San Antonio has purchased 125,712 conservation acres over the Edwards Aquifer.

And if the City Council brings the popular sales-tax proposition to fund the effort to voters three more times in the next 15 years, including next year, the City will secure its water demand on the aquifer for 2060 by 2030.

“Basically, what it says is, we are 30 years ahead of schedule,” Edwards Aquifer Protection Program Special Projects Manager Grant Ellis said.

Currently, 51 percent of the projected 2060 demand on the aquifer is protected.

The program is funded through a proposition that was approved by voters in 2000, 2005 and 2010 that adds an eighth cent to the city’s sales tax for the purchase of conservation easements over the aquifer. San Antonio’s sales-tax rate is 8.25 percent—in line with Texas’ other major cities.

Ellis said the program has used $45 million of the 2010 voter-approved $90 million to date. Since 2000, $180 million has been spent on conservation easements and land. The current sales tax will expire in April 2016 and Ellis said funds will be completely spent, or in the process of being spent, by early 2016.

District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg said he is working with the program’s staff to determine whether the proposition should be placed on the May or November 2015 ballot. Council must approve the election either way.

Properties purchased with the funds are located in the aquifer recharge zone, a six-county region north and west of the Alamo City that includes northern Bexar County.

“We would protect 100 percent of water-supply projections if we acquire conservation easements at the same rate we have been going,” Nirenberg said.

But that projection also factors in water-source diversification efforts undertaken by the San Antonio Water System, including desalination and a plan to pipe in 50,000 acre-feet of water from Burleson County, which would secure 20 percent of San Antonio’s current annual water demand. That project could begin in 2019. A SAWS aquifer storage facility also has 100,000 acre-feet of water in reserve. An acre-foot is nearly 326,000 gallons of water.

“If we don’t meet our marks in diversifying our water supply and conserving our water supply, it makes our Edwards Aquifer Protection Program that much more important, because it means we’re relying much more heavily on the aquifer than we projected,” Nirenberg said.

According to a study by government consultant and research institute LMI, if the proposition is continued through 2020, it will protect 76 percent of the demand on the aquifer in 2060. If funding is reduced to $45 million, 67 percent of the demand would be protected and if it’s discontinued, 57 percent of the demand on the aquifer will be protected in 2020.

“Only San Antonio has a planned program of land protection based on known recharge rates specifically chosen to protect recharge into an aquifer that is the primary source of municipal water,” the study notes.

PBS has also taken note and recently released a documentary that highlights the aquifer program and so have several international publications that study how governments use financing to protect water resources.

“We’re unique and worth noting,” Ellis said. “Our water source is a unique pristine primary drinking source for more than 2 million people.”

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