SAWS No Press, Press Conference
This clip appeared on KSAT-TV (San Antonio) on June 10, the day after The Rivard Report, San Antonio’s independent online news site, broke this Vista Ridge story wide open. SAWS apparently has been dumping 10 million gallons per day of the “most expensive water” in Texas, likely since April 15, the day it opened.
LIV News reported to you on May 4 that it was odd that SAWS held a “press event” with no press present on April 15 to announce the grand opening of the 142-mile water pipeline (aka the San Antone Hose).
SAWS’ “game changer” water project was celebrated by SAWS workers and General Manager Robert Puente only, drinking glasses of Vista Ridge water for the cameras, but someone was missing. Sometimes called “The Fourth Estate”, the media was nowhere to be seen.
Why the flimflam? Rivard’s ace environmental reporter, Brendan Gibbons, reported on the SAWS June 9th meeting in his June 10th article, SAWS Flushing Half of Vista Ridge Water as Cost Overrun nears $100 million (corrected to $80 million).
Gibbon's piece tipped us SAWS accountability activists off that two hundred feet from SAWS’ celebratory “no press, press event” lies Mud Creek, where SAWS’ dumping of Vista Ridge water could have been easily captured by the media.
At this moment, it appears to us that SAWS has dumped 10 million gallons per day of Vista Ridge water for up to 58 days. Gibbons conservatively estimated the cost to San Antonio ratepayers at a “minimum of $50,000 per day” at “$1600 per acre feet.” We think it is likely to be substantially higher because Vista Ridge water, according to our experts, is costing closer to $2400 per acre foot so Gibbon's original estimate of $100M is closer to the truth.
Michele Gangnes, an attorney and Lee County landowner who serves on the LIV Advisory Committee, said:
“Constructing SAWS’ pipeline hookup infrastructure on the north side of San Antonio saved their developer friends a lot of money, but ended up costing ratepayers tens of millions in cost overruns and possibly another $3 million for water poured down the creek. Whether this wasteful discharge of groundwater was legally permissible remains to be seen, but it is morally bankrupt to pump our Simsboro aquifer and then pour it on the ground at our and ratepayers’ expense.”
The entire Vista Ridge project is a waste.
Vista Ridge is arguably more than twice the water that SAWS may need twenty years from now for 20% of its water portfolio. That additional supply was already on the table with SAWS’ previous stellar water conservation efforts, a brackish desal supply project and aquifer storage during times of plenty.
But, in February 2014, just after Puente said he opposed this project, he suddenly reversed course. Documents obtained in open records requests to SAWS indicated Puente was pressed by members of the Chamber of Commerce to resurrect the Vista Ridge proposal. Please also note that Puente is paid a yearly salary and bonus totaling $600K -- 3 times that of any public water GM found so far in the U.S.A. (See this Rivard article on Executive Pay at utilities.)
Be sure to read the comments on Gibbon’s June 10th piece. This one, by “Civitas” – obviously, a made up name, appears to us to be a well-informed industry whistle-blower, so we couldn’t resist quoting it here:
“Too bad Steve Clouse [Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer at SAWS] didn't mention that the Vista Ridge pipeline terminus was originally on the southeast side of San Antonio, taking advantage of the infrastructure and right of way that SAWS had in place to bring Carrizo-Wilcox groundwater from the Schertz-Seguin Local Government Corporation to the SAWS connection near I-10 & 410.
The delivery point was changed to Stone Oak to benefit developers, as Amy Hardberger noted prior to her appointment to the SAWS Board. How did the developers benefit?
If the VR water was delivered to an existing location, those “in need” of the water would have to reimburse SAWS for the cost of moving the water across town. That’s why we have [developer] impact fees, to make sure citizens don’t subsidize the urban growth machine.
SA’s “best and brightest” deemed it important to force SA ratepayers to subsidize delivery, at a greatly increased cost, so that our beloved real estate developer community could increase their profit margins.”
Following Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s June 7th interview on 60 Minutes about the economic crisis hitting San Antonio post-COVID, especially its numerous residents already struggling in poverty, isn't it about time for the city of San Antonio to get a heart and seriously consider putting the PUBLIC back into their public water utility?
A cross-partisan citizen coalition has done much of the work for them by developing the SAWS Accountability Act, including an independent audit of Vista Ridge.
The SAWS Act will:
click here for the petition
- Ratchet back Puente's outrageous pay -- $600K per year!
- Set firm term limits on SAWS leadership and show SAWS Chair Berto Guerra the door -- a full two years beyond his term limit.
- Rein in SAWS lobbying to become water brokers of central Texas off ratepayer's backs.
- Secure an audit of Vista Ridge AND audits of any $1 billion or more projects BEFORE contracts are signed.
The Mayor and Council can put this measure on the ballot or simply pass it as an ordinance now. Otherwise, petitioners are about to start circulating the SAWS Act petition in July, headed for the May 2021 ballot when the Mayor and Council will be running again.
What you can do:
- Sign up to join a Zoom call on these issues scheduled for June 23, 6:30 pm. Details here.
- If you are a SAWS ratepayer, call the Mayor and Your City Council Member to urge support for the SAWS Accountability Act. The City's main number is 210.207.7040.
- Contact other officials at the County and State Legislature, including MOST importantly, Governor Greg Abbott at 512.463.2000 or email him here. Ask them to get all the facts about Vista Ridge opened to the public and to bring the public back into SAWS.