Thursday, February 8, 2018

Here's Who Mayor Nirenberg Wants Making SAWS Policy Decisions

Posted By on Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 6:03 PM

SAWS CEO Robert Puente unveils Vista Ridge project in 2014 - MICHAEL MARKS
  • Michael Marks
  • SAWS CEO Robert Puente unveils Vista Ridge project in 2014

Mayor Ron Nirenberg has shared his three nominees to the San Antonio Water System (or, SAWS) board with members of City Council. Board members serve four-year terms, and are responsible for making major decisions about the city's water and sewage policies.

One of the suggested nominees, David McGee, already sits on the board. McGee, who was appointed in 2016, is the CEO of Amegy Bank Central Texas region. Per SAWS board rules (if he's appointed), he will not be able to be nominated for a third four-year term.

Nirenberg also nominated Eduardo Parra, CEO of engineering consulting firm Parra & Co. His company specializes in water, utilities and public works — and, according to Nirenberg, Parra has taught a few university courses on sewer system construction.

The mayor's third nomination comes with a recognizable name: Amy Hardberger. Hardberger, the daughter of former San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger, is an associate dean and professor at St. Mary's School of Law and has specialized in groundwater law, human rights to water laws, and a handful of other water-related legal areas. Hardberger was interviewed by the Texas Tribune in 2014 about SAWS' controversial plan to funnel 16 billion gallons of water from Burleson County to San Antonio through a 142-mile-long pipeline, dubbed "Vista Ridge." She didn't sound too eager to support the project.

"It’s really about how much do you need and for what purposes," Hardberger said, questioning the real purpose of the pipeline. "How important are lawns? Should we be putting fresh water on lawns?"

Nirenberg voted to approve the costly (read: $3 billion) Vista Ridge pipeline when he was on city council, but has been critical of how SAWS has handled the project ever since. As mayor, he's promised more transparency within the utility company, but ended 2017 by introducing a hotly-debated ordinance to increase the SAWS bills by 5.8 percent in 2018 and by 4.7 percent in 2019. City Council voted to approve the rate hikes in December.

In his letter to the council, Nirenberg wrote that these nominations reflect his SAWS priorities, like "fiscally responsible management" and "improved customer service."

He predicts the city council will have a final vote on the nominations in March.

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