What is the Vista Ridge Pipeline?
In November 2014, the City of San Antonio signed a contract with Abengoa Vista Ridge, a subsidiary of Spain-based Abengoa S.A. The contract, if fully executed commits the city to purchase up to 16.3 billion gallons of water per year for 30 years at an estimated cost of $3.4 billion.
The project calls for pumping this water from formations of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer from a well field in Burleson County, northeast of Austin. A consortium of private companies would build, operate, and maintain a new 142-mile long pipeline to a delivery point on the north side of San Antonio. A shell water supply corporation has been created to condemn land for the pipeline by exercising eminent domain along the proposed route.
San Antonio’s mayor, City Council members, Chamber of Commerce representatives, and water utility hail the “Vista Ridge project” as providing secure, affordable, non-Edwards water for San Antonio Water System (SAWS) ratepayers, and for future generations of San Antonio residents. However, a closer look at the arguments in favor of Vista Ridge reveals they simply don’t hold water.
TOP 10 VISTA RIDGE PIPELINE PROBLEMS
1. San Antonio does not need Vista Ridge water
SAWS has said that Vista Ridge water is to avoid Stage III and IV drought restrictions during a drought of record. In other words, the massive project is needed so that people can continue to water their lawns during a serious drought! Therefore, Vista Ridge water may not be used for decades. Rather, Vista Ridge water will be used for new development both inside and outside of the city.
2. Expanding brackish desal remains a better option
SAWS staff previously rejected Vista Ridge as too risky and instead recommended expanding local, brackish groundwater desalination incrementally on an “as needed” basis. This remains a better option than the one advanced by lobbyists for Vista Ridge because it is a more secure, affordable, and flexible water project. In fact, SAWS is already building its brackish water desalination project and could ramp up production on an “as-needed” basis.
3. The high costs of Vista Ridge are inequitable
Because a private company will construct Vista Ridge, current ratepayers will be forced to foot the entire bill for massive amounts of water they don’t need, while new development avoids impact fees and stand ready to buy “excess” Vista Ridge water at discounted rates.
4. Vista Ridge will harm rural communities
Vista Ridge will significantly harm the environment and communities near the source of the pumping. Vista Ridge will pump over 16.3 billion gallons from the Carrizo and Simsboro aquifers every year. The mega-pumping will harm the aquifers, the streams these aquifers contribute to, and the communities that depend on these waters for one simple reason: the pumping rate will vastly exceed the recharge rate, leading to mining of the aquifers.
5. Vista Ridge is not a secure or reliable water supply
Proposed pumping amounts will surpass Levels 1 and 2 of the groundwater district’s thresholds for action to reduce pumping on the first day that Vista Ridge water starts flowing to San Antonio. This means that the water supply could be cut back immediately.
6. Vista Ridge will threaten the Sensitive Edwards Aquifer
Under the current contract, San Antonio must accept and pay for water that is delivered regardless of whether the city needs the water or not. SAWS plans to sell excess water to offset the high costs of Vista Ridge. Hill Country developers are among the most interested in new water. This means SAWS’ plan to offset costs will be pitted against protecting the Edwards Aquifer from development and pollution.
7. Vista Ridge will discourage conservation
The excess water that Vista Ridge will provide will discourage conservation. Because San Antonio must accept and pay for water that is delivered whether it needs it or not, the utility will be financially motivated to encourage the use of as much of that water as possible, in order to cover the costs. SAWS is already marketing San Antonio as “Water City” with an “abundant” water supply, in hopes of attracting all types of business, including water-intensive industries.
8. SAWS has not been honest about Vista Ridge
No thorough, written analysis of the financial, social, economic, and environmental impacts of the project has been made available, despite repeated requests from the public. PowerPoint slides do not substitute for meaningful due diligence.
9. Vista Ridge will require large amounts of energy
The energy requirements for pumping water 142 miles uphill conflicts directly with San Antonio’s climate protection goals and moral obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
10. Vista Ridge dealings have not been transparent
The City Council has failed to require SAWS and Project Company Abengoa VR to disclose and discuss all relevant information in an open and transparent public engagement process. As a result, the people and communities of seven counties directly affected by Vista Ridge, and many others in surrounding areas, do not have a clear picture of the project’s true benefits and costs.
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