SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Water System is considering taking over a popular program to protect the Edwards Aquifer, but it could mean a reduction in the program’s scale.
SAWS is considering taking over the funding and management of the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, which is used to buy land and obtain conservation easements over the aquifer’s recharge and contributing zones. It is currently run by the City of San Antonio and has been funded with a portion of a one-eighth of a cent sales tax since voters first approved it in 2000.
Voters approved to continue the tax up to $100 million for the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program in a May 2015 election.
The tax will expire in 2021, though, and instead of renewing the continued funding of the EAPP and the development of trails, Mayor Ron Nirenberg wants voters to approve its use for transportation funding. To ensure the EAPP is still funded, the mayor has asked the SAWS Board of Trustees to consider taking over the program.
Though no details have been set, nor has the board even agreed to the idea, a presentation Wednesday by SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente showed a possible outcome.
Note: Presentation begins at 2:30:50 in video link above
In a slide labeled “Preferred Funding Option,” Puente showed how a reduction in the amount of money the utility sends to the city over the next five years could result in $11.5 million of savings.
The utility could borrow $52 million for land and easement acquisitions and pay the debt service and operation and maintenance costs for its version of the program with roughly the same amount -- $11.6 million.
Puente said after the meeting that SAWS is incapable of spending the same amount as the city, but said the public “does not have to be concerned with the fact that $100 million worth of acquisitions are not happening at that level anymore.”
“So it’s one of those things where there’s -- there’s not really a set number as to how you protect the aquifer. It’s a continuation of not just this program, but many other programs that we currently do already,” Puente said.
Trustees discussed when the program, which has already been used to acquire close to 160,000 acres, might be considered finished and how it might focus its attention on what land to acquire.
“You can have a lot of acreage and still kill the golden goose on accident because we didn’t pay attention,” said board secretary Amy Hardberger.
When asked about the possibility of a rate increase if SAWS took on the program, Puente told media after the meeting that it was too early to say.
“Right now, we don’t know because we don’t know what to expect,” Puente said. “Do they want us to buy millions and millions of property worth? Or how many acres do they want us to purchase? How many easements do they want us to purchase?”
Puente said the timeline on whether the board of trustees would approve taking over the program would “take as long as it takes.” However, he believed the majority of trustee questions had been answered.
“Next step is for us to further educate our board, get a little bit more guidance from the board so that maybe, depending on the board, again, whether they want to make the ultimate decision in February,” Puente said.