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The Missing $120 million Tip of the Vista Ridge Iceberg

Vista-Ridge-Rally-Photo

Have you seen the vanishing $120 million for Vista Ridge pipeline in this 1-minute video? Please watch it go up in smoke, then share it and don’t forget to ask – that is to call 210.207.7040 to speak to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and your San Antonio City Council member before they vote on Thursday, December 7th, to raise your water rates to pay for Vista Ridge. Urge them to:

  • Oppose water rate hikes for Vista Ridge,
  • Call for a thorough independent financial audit of Vista Ridge, and
  • Demand that the Mayor and City Council find a way out of Vista Ridge.
  • Read this entire news piece for fair and full warning of the risks of Vista Ridge for SAWS ratepayers.

In 2015, the non-profit League of independent Voters (LIV) brought folks to San Antonio from the “source communities” for Vista Ridge (Burleson, Milam, Lee and Bastrop counties), to fight this project  with our San Antonio friends. The featured photo shows members from the coalition of communities together outside San Antonio City Hall – a beautiful picture of rural and urban Texans in a critical fight together, on the same side!

Vista Ridge, one of the most egregious “water grabs” in Texas history, is an attempt to bring the California water model to Texas. That model – to move massive amounts of water for develop- ment in dry areas — is a proven disaster in California after only 50 years of over-pumping groundwater. As LIV’s 17- minute video “I Oppose the San Antone Hose” says, “we cannot let this happen to Texas.”

I happen to like Ron Nirenberg. I think it took some guts for him to drive up to Burleson County to meet with landowners in January 2016, after voting for Vista Ridge. Then Councilman Nirenberg asked a lot of questions about the project and SAWS transparency.  Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales asked similar questions of SAWS before she too voted for Vista Ridge in 2014.

But they all did – the seemingly impossible task of standing up not only to SAWS but the entire real estate lobby pushing it like a freight train, resulted in a unanimous Council vote, not only to approve the $3.4 billion project but also for the first wave of rate increases to pay for it.

It also took some guts for now Mayor Nirenberg to vote no on yet another annual pay raise for SAWS CEO, Robert Puente. I ask you, is Puente really worth that much more than these other large municipal water utilities executives? Please don’t ask SAWS Chairman, Berto Guerra, who will only start reciting his  “national anthem” to Puente and Vista Ridge. See Salaries Chart

Austin Water Utility, Greg Mezaros
$195,312

Dallas Water Utility, Jo M. Puckett
$190,360

Houston Public Works, Karunakar Sreerama
$275,000

SAWS, Robert Puente  (base pay $468,194 + $99,285 bonus)*
$567,480!

A Save Our Springs Alliance staff attorney (longtime protectors of the Edwards Aquifer) and Michele Gangnes, a Director of the League of Independent Voters of Texas and one of the founders of the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund, have just begun circulating this memorandum to the San Antonio City Council entitled, “Questions all Council Members should ask of SAWS related to SAWS proposed rate hikes and Vista Ridge.”

The memo ups the ante on SAWS/Vista Ridge accountability by explaining there is a serious question whether anyone – including SAWS, the Vista Ridge private partners or even the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the only state agency with any oversight on water rates – can guarantee SAWS ratepayers that the San Antonio City Council retains absolute control over its water rates related to this project. Check out this paragraph on page 6 lifted from the memo:

The risk profile of the Vista Ridge project relies heavily on one essential assumption in the Vista Ridge Contract – that the “Capital and Raw Groundwater Price” will remain at a fixed amount for the 30-year life of the contract between SAWS and the Project Company. Should this assumption be proven unenforceable by SAWS, it would call into question the entire contract and the project itself, and yet, it is an issue that SAWS apparently has not publicly considered.

Though it still appears that SAWS fully intends to remain the tail wagging the City Hall dog ), December 7th, 2017 is another day and a new day for Vista Ridge before a new Council. To what extent, we shall soon see.

No matter what happens on December 7th, LIV (and Independent Texans, a PAC I help direct) fully intends to keep building together across the pipeline to unite rural and urban Texans who want the same things for our incoming generations – government accountability, fiscal sanity and true stewardship of our most precious resource.

The future is ours – a united movement of Texans across all the things that divide us!

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.

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