Advisory/Release Media Event on Zoom, June 23, 6:30 pm
SAWS No Press, Press Conference
San Antonio, TX: SAWS accountability activists couldn't figure out why San Antonio's public water utility, San Antonio Water System (SAWS), held a press event without press present when their touted "game changing" water project -- Vista Ridge -- started pumping on April 15. They just found out.
The independent San Antonio online news publication, The Rivard Report, reported SAWS Flushing Half of Vista Ridge Water as Cost Overrun nears $80 million.
Two hundred feet from SAWS’ celebratory “no press, press event” lies Mud Creek -- where SAWS was dumping Vista Ridge water and it could have been easily captured by the media.
The April 15th ”gala occasion” was a totally staged event. SAWS took pictures for this flier SAWS mail-out Vista Ridge Announcement inserted into SAWS water bills and recorded their own deceptive little video.
Michele Gangnes, an attorney and Lee County landowner who serves on the League of Independent Voters Advisory Committee (a member of the coalition pushing for SAWS reform), 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 SAWS General Manager, Robert 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 country. (See this Rivard article on Executive Pay at utilities.)
Mr. Puente told the City Council on February 14, 2018 that he would sell 15,000 of Vista Ridge’s mega-permit for 50,000 acre-feet so that ratepayers wouldn’t be paying for the water they neither needed nor could use. So far, Puente has seen no takers for what appears to be the most expensive water in the U.S.
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, makes SAWS reform and a real independent audit of Vista Ridge all the more imperative.
A cross-partisan citizen coalition (a rare occurence these days) believes it has done much of the work for the city to gain control of the "rogue SAWS" by developing the SAWS Accountability Act. If the city doesn't make a move on SAWS, petitioners say they will start circulating a municipal charter amendment petition in July, headed for the May 2021 ballot when the Mayor and Council elections will take place.
The SAWS Act will:
- Ratchet back the General Manager's pay.
- Set firm term limits on SAWS leadership and thereby remove SAWS Chair Berto Guerra who is 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.
Media is invited to a June 23, 6:30 pm press event on Zoom!
Purpose of this event: To explain to you WHY SAWS was forced to dump the most valuable resource on the planet these days -- groundwater -- and how this is impacting on two critically important central Texas aquifers (the Edwards and Carrizo-Wilcox) and water policy in Texas.
For information on how to join the call, please reach Reinette King at (210) 241-2683, firstname.lastname@example.org.