City Council Approves Water Rate Hikes
San Antonio City Council unanimously approved a measure that would raise rates for residential San Antonio Water System customers by 50 percent over five years.
The biggest item the increases are designed to finance is the Vista Ridge pipeline, a $3.4 billion project that will pump water 142 miles out of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer and into San Antonio water fountains, bathtubs and swimming pools. The increased rates are also meant to fund a new desalination plant on the South Side and repairs to the sewage system.
A coalition of concerned citizens fiercely opposed the increased rates. They expressed concerns about the impact on the city's poorest residents, the impact on the aquifer and whether the project would be a disincentive for conservation while catalyzing suburban sprawl.
Despite the opposition, every City Council member backed the rate increases, though some did so with strings securely attached to their vote. Councilman Ron Nirenberg said in a news release that his approval came with commitments from SAWS CEO Robert Puente that the utility would prioritize conservation and be more transparent.
The ultimate rationale for approving the increase seemed to come down to the future needs of San Antonio's projected population boom.
"Vista Ridge is essential to meeting our water needs of the future," said Mayor Ivy Taylor in a news release. "Not planning for growth doesn't mean we won't grow — it just means we will be unprepared to meet the demands of tomorrow's families and businesses. As a community we need a common vision of prosperity that encourages sustainable growth, and today's vote supports that."
Planned Parenthood Sues Texas
Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates are suing the state's Health and Human Services Commission to stop the agency from cutting the group's Medicaid funding.
Stuart Bowen, the HHSC's inspector general, sent a letter to Texas affiliates of Planned Parenthood in October informing them that they'd no longer receive state support through Medicaid. The letter raised concerns about patient safety, citing sting videos from an anti-abortion group.
In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood claims that the state's actions violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, limiting the 10 anonymous women who are co-plaintiffs from "from receiving services from their qualified, willing provider of choice."
There are 34 Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas, but only a handful perform abortions.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of the Supreme Court's announcement that it would consider the legality of Texas House Bill 2, a measure passed in 2013 that drastically lowered the number of abortion clinics in the state. A recent study from the University of Texas Policy Evaluation Project concluded that at least 100,000 Texas women between the ages of 18 and 49 have induced their own abortions. The number could he as high as 240,000.
More Shakeups at SeaWorld
Faced with declining attendance, more changes are on the way for SeaWorld San Antonio.
Starting March 5, the Aquatica section of the park will be separated from the SeaWorld marine park. Aquatica contains water slides and other thrill rides, while the marine park houses the aquatic shows and exhibits.
One-day Admission to the marine park will cost $65, while entry for Aquatica will cost $40. Admission to both parks will cost $102.
SeaWorld has tried to retool its image since the 2013 release of the movie Blackfish, which exposed how the park's animals, particularly orca whales, were horrifically impacted by being in captivity. SeaWorld announced last week that it would stop orca shows at its San Diego location, though they will continue in San Antonio.
Last week, a 2-year-old baby beluga whale named Stella died at the San Antonio park.