Call off the Vista Ridge Hounds
by Linda Curtis
Representative Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) could use his authority as the new chair of the Texas House Natural Resources Committee to support House Bill 3996, sponsored by Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart). The bill calls for a one-time, limited sunset review of San Antonio Water System. According to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, sunset reviews focus not only on whether an agency should be abolished, but also on identifying areas of weakness in an agency’s operations and recommending specific solutions for improvement through changes in law and management directives to its leadership. HB 3996 explicitly prevents SAWS from having a management audit or being abolished.
SAWS used to be known as a leader in water innovation, including conservation. It is now far more infamous in the region for its continued quest for the expensive and ill-advised 142-mile Vista Ridge water pipeline, otherwise disparaged as “the San Antone Hose”. Largely as a result of Vista Ridge, SAWS began referring to San Antonio as “waterful”, which many see as synonymous with encouraging unsustainable growth. Not surprisingly, that controversial term has now disappeared from SAWS’ website in favor of calling San Antonio “water’s most resourceful city.”
No matter what euphemism is used, the City of San Antonio is suffering seething resentment in the region as a water grabber and a bully, while San Antonio ratepayers are about to experience something that cannot be stated nicely. It’s called ratepayer rape, to obtain this expensive water that San Antonio may never need and that most certainly will be used outside the city. You heard that right. San Antonio ratepayers will be paying for Vista Ridge water to be used to build outside the city.
Rep. Larson instead has chosen to push his own sunset review bill to the head of the line in his own Committee. House Bill 4235 calls for a limited sunset review of two groundwater districts, Lone Star near Houston and Middle Pecos in West Texas. Unlike HB 3996, each district would have to pay the tab for its own sunset reviews, starting in 2019 and in every 12th year after that.
For what did these districts incur the wrath of Lyle Larson? Apparently, they were committed to their missions of managing and protecting the groundwater resources of their respective districts. A March opinion piece in the San Antonio Express-News by Greg Sengelmann, manager of Gonzales County Underground Water Conservation District, eloquently defends districts like Mid-Pecos and Lone Star. Rep. Larson, on the other hand, recently made the case that these same districts must be reformed, because their “parochial mindset” puts them on the wrong side of the property rights issue and leads to “blocking access [to a future water supply] to anyone outside of their immediate community…”
This 3-minute video by longtime Ft. Stockton landowner and music video producer, Kirby Warnock, says it all –with humor and grace —about what Larson’s water purveyor cronies are doing.
On April 4th, two days before the Alamo Torch co-sponsored the Vista Ridge Beer Summit, the SAWS’ board accepted 500 pages of contract amendments to save the failing project for a third time, without one word from the Mayor or the City Council. We hope that many of the mayoral and council candidates who attended the Beer Summit are moved to inform their constituents that it is time to take back control of SAWS and end its roguish ways.
Legislators would never say this out loud, but most of them see Lyle like we see SAWS. They both have swelled heads, both are water bullies and both deserve a kick in the pants for abusing their authority. To state the obvious, Vista Ridge needs the plug pulled. The not-so-obvious is that House Speaker Joe Straus, at 512.463.1000, needs to hear a very simple, polite request from San Antonians to call off the dogs – Larson and SAWS. Urge the Speaker to use his considerable power to put Vista Ridge out of its misery.
Linda Curtis co-founded Independent Texans, a political action committee for non-aligned voters, in 2001 following the demise of the Reform Party led by Ross Perot. Curtis lives in Bastrop, which shares the aquifer targeted for Vista Ridge pumping.