Environmentalists push for more transparency from San Antonio Water System

SAWS executive says utility company negotiated contract in public

San Antonio environmentalists are pushing for more transparency when it comes to SAWS projects.
San Antonio environmentalists are pushing for more transparency when it comes to SAWS projects.

San Antonio – Local environmentalists are pushing for more transparency when it comes to San Antonio Water System projects.

On Wednesday, members of several groups announced they are launching a petition this July that will require 20,000 signatures.

Reinette King, with SAWS Act PAC, said their concerns are because of a lack of accountability by SAWS.

“We are starting a petition in July, a formal petition, for a charter amendment for the citizens of San Antonio to get to vote for an audit of any billion-dollar or more project that SAWS is doing,” King said.

The announcement was made next to Mud Creek, near the Agua Vista plant on Hardy Oaks, where the groups say water from the Vista Ridge Pipeline project is wastefully dumped.

A project 10 years in the making: Vista Ridge Pipeline is now online

“This water's already been paid for, and it's just flowing down the creek. Nobody gets to use it. Nobody gets to drink it,” King said.

SAWS Chief Operating Officer Steve Clouse said about 10 million gallons of water a day are being dumped into the creek as part of their routine process.

“Whenever we go through a new system, we always go through a flushing out system like this,” Clouse explained.

The flushing should last one to two weeks. He said another 10 million gallons daily are being distributed to customers.

The Vista Ridge project was partially completed in April. The last stretch of the project is the Central Water Integration Pipeline (CWIP) project and is expected to be completed in July.

This week, the SAWS board also got the total price tag for the Vista Ridge Project, along with CWIP, which is about $100 million over the projected cost quoted in 2015.

Clouse said the total for the project in 2015 didn’t include easement purchases and other costs.

“The number that was used in 2015 is by no means an apples-to-apples comparison with what we presented yesterday, which was an all-encompassing, comprehensive view in what we have invested to bring this project online,” Clouse said.

Terry Burns, with the local Sierra Club chapter, said this is another reason activists want SAWS and this project to be audited.

“What I was surprised by was that we finally got that answer because, over these last years, we've gotten a few million here, a few million there,” he said.

Clouse said SAWS has been very transparent about this project.

“We brief our board on a monthly basis. We’ve been to multiple city council meetings. We negotiated this contract in public,” he said.

To find out more about the petition, visit www.sawsact.org.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information about the Central Water Integration Pipeline (CWIP) project.

About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

Before starting KSAT in 2017, Lee was a photojournalist at KENS 5, where he won a Lone Star Emmy in 2014 for Best Weather Segment. In 2009 and 2010 Lee garnered first-place awards with the Texas Association of Broadcasters for Best Investigative Series in College Station, as well as winning first place for Staff Photojournalism in 2011 at KBTX.