Mayor’s proposal to support public transportation could impact drinking water protection program

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg is trying to find a way to fund public transportation without raising taxes, and he believes he’s found a way by diverting a sales tax approved by voters to support the protection of the Edwards Aquifer.

Voters approved a 1/8 cent sales tax in 2000 to support aquifer protection and parks expansion. Every five years, voters have continued to approve the sales tax, which is set to expire in 2021.

Instead of continuing to support the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, the mayor wants to use the roughly $45 million annually to improve public transportation. He plans to put the measure on the November 2020 ballot.

“We can't build an environmentally sustainable city with 3 million people in it, which is the projection in 2050, unless we have an adequate public transportation system that's connected to transportation reform that citizens have been asking for for years," Nirenberg said.

He said funding to continue protecting the aquifer can come from state or federal dollars, but funding for transportation can only come from local sales tax dollars.

According to the city, since 2000, roughly $267 million has been invested into the program, and about 160,000 acres of land have been purchased in Medina, Uvalde and Bexar counties. The sales tax also includes park expansion, like the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System.

The Edwards Aquifer Authority said 94% of the entire aquifer watershed area remains unprotected.

There are still roughly 22 properties or 4,500 acres that under consideration for this program.

Edwards Aquifer Protection Program Map
Edwards Aquifer Protection Program Map (KSAT)

“I will be working doggedly hard to make sure that there are funding mechanisms available to us to continue to protect our water supply,” Nirenberg said. “We have to. It's an extremely important initiative, an extremely important program.”

Roland Ruiz, with the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, issued the following statement regarding the proposed changes to the 1/8 cent sales tax:

“The Edwards Aquifer Protection Program which the 1/8 cent sales tax has funded and the city has implemented has proven to be a successful model in how government can work together with property owners in private-public partnerships to benefit a natural resource that serves as the primary water supply for more than 2 million people in Bexar County and the surrounding region. With or without the sales tax, There is much work left to be done in ensuring the long term sustainability of the aquifer. The value of funding for preserving properties on the recharge and contributing zones of the aquifer through sales tax revenues is that it provides for meaningful stewardship through incentives rather than regulation. Regardless of the fate of the 1/8 cent sales tax, the EAA is committed to fulfilling its mission to manage, enhance, and protect the Edwards Aquifer through continued collaboration with partners across the region, employing inclusion, imagination and innovation.”

On Thursday, the Edward Aquifer Conservancy received the deed to more than 150 acres of land, known as the Cibolo Vista Tracts 1 and 2, by the city of San Antonio. The property was purchased through tax dollars. The property will be used to “ develop, research, and implement practices that lead to the enhance water quality and quantity for the region,” according to the news release by the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program.

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