Mayor Ron Nirenberg and San Antonio City Council Members
San Antonio, Texas
Re: Vista Ridge
Dear Mayor Nirenberg and City Council Members,
I am reaching out to you on behalf of residents and landowners in the communities that the San Antonio Water System settled on to provide the source water for San Antonio.
I will be following this message with a call to you. We have a number of concerns regarding this project, including the still unexplained reason as to why SAWS chose Vista Ridge when there are less costly sources of water supply identified in the State Water Plan located half the distance from Vista Ridge.
The specific focus of this letter however, is a subject of particular concern to the Mayor and City Council: the terms of the Vista Ridge Contract.
We respectfully request that you obtain qualified, independent counsel in order to carry out your own definitive review of the Vista Ridge contract.
We believe that a close professional analysis by a consultant free of direct or indirect legal, financial, or personal ties to parties that have or expect to benefit from the Vista Ridge project would identify potential risks posed to SAWS ratepayers and would provide the City Council with sufficient understanding to properly monitor the Vista Ridge project going forward.
We believe the three series of contract amendments SAWS approved, without Council oversight or public scrutiny, expose ratepayers to risks—it was avoidance of these risks that justified the public-private partnership in the first place. The concessions, waivers, and diluted performance standards that were permitted by those amendments weaken the terms of the contract to the benefit of the Project Company, thereby transferring improper, if not unlawful, additional costs to San Antonio ratepayers.
We also have a fundamental concern with a provision in the original contract that purports to shield the Project Company and the contract’s water rates from review by the TCEQ or Public Utility Commission of Texas. The Texas Supreme Court has, however, held that wholesale rates, even those established by contract, can be reviewed, which calls into question the contract’s interpretation.
This critical question must not be disposed of by facile oral or written assurances SAWS consultants or staff might offer the Council. We raise it here because of its importance, especially in light of potential rate hikes about which you will deliberate on November 9:
Does the contract govern the cost of water to City ratepayers in all cases, as the Project Company has essentially warranted in the contract and upon which representation SAWS has relied? Or is there the possibility that the contract rates could ultimately be reviewed, and potentially adjusted upward, by either TCEQ or PUCT, to the detriment of ratepayers?
In short, we fear that if insufficient funds are available at any point of the 30-year contract, either SAWS or the parties benefitting financially from the Vista Ridge project will persuade the Public Utility Commission to override the City’s contractual control over water rates and transfer risks that were ostensibly to be borne by Vista Ridge to the city and its ratepayers.
This risk alone warrants a full investigation by the Council before proceeding to implement the contract with additional rate hikes.
We look forward to discussing this matter with you and sharing the information we’ve uncovered regarding the potential risks to San Antonio ratepayers before it’s too late.
We invite you to call Lauren Ice, an attorney on staff at Save Our Springs Alliance, longtime Edwards Aquifer guardians at 512-477-2320, ext. 305. Ms. Ice is very knowledgeable about the PUCT issues. And/or please contact Michele Gangnes of the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund at 512-461-3179 or. Ms. Gangnes is a landowner and attorney who lives over the aquifer in Lee County and has volunteered for 18 years in service of protection of the Simsboro.
There is no way the source communities are going away on this issue. We urban and rural Texans belong together — not on opposite sides of the fence or an aquifer.
We suspect a majority of the San Antonio Council agrees.
PO Box 651
Bastrop, TX 78602