The Big Squeeze, aka the California Water Model
If you came to this page to sign a petition to Governor Greg Abbott, today we ask you contact the Governor instead. Call his hotline at 800.843.5789 and urge him to support the League of Independent Voters' efforts to protect our most precious resource -- water -- and to reverse course on the "California Water Model," that is, pump now, conserve later.
Need help from LIV? Call 512.213.4511 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for caring about our most precious resource currently at the mercy of land speculators, water hustlers and failure from leaders of both parties.
Water is the most valuable resource on the planet. But the Texas Legislature is far too busy with in-fighting (culture wars), strangling the opposing party, and throwing us red meat to pay attention to our bread and butter. That's our water and energy.
Millions of Texans got a terrible taste of what it's like to live without power and water in the middle of a Big Freeze in February 2021.
To make our point, we have said repeatedly that the "California Water Model" -- moving masses of water for real estate development to areas with inadequate local supply-- is a proven disaster. Conservation, after the fact, won't cut it.
In Texas, our water policy could be characterized as worse than California's, in the following way. Forty-miles east of the Pink Dome in Austin (our Capitol building) is a raid on a rural communities' water supply by San Antonio's public water utility (SAWS), together with private water hustlers via the Vista Ridge water pipeline (known as "the San Antone Hose." This so-called "deal of the century" is intended to make San Antonio ratepayers, in one of the poorest cities in the US, pay for the most expensive groundwater in the US (that we know of) to move Vista Ridge water into the Hill Country. This is over the highly sensitive recharge zones of the federally protected, and fast recharging jewel of water supply in Texas -- the Edwards Aquifer. For what purpose? To build a megalopolis between Austin and San Antonio -- polluting San Antonio's main source of drinking water.
Texas Water Policy is based on the false notion that we can "subdue" nature. No, we can kill nature and then everyone loses.
Independent Politics and Public-Private Partnerships
Short-sighted water policy has been in place in Texas for a long time. Texans have watched the draining of the Ogallala Aquifer in West Texas for decades. But, the idea of subduing nature – our water supply – recently went into overdrive in Texas in 2014 with the largest public-private partnership water pipeline in the nation – Vista Ridge. The project was forced on rural, suburban and urban Texans against all of our interests. The "donor communities" are Burleson, Milam, Lee, Bastrop and Caldwell counties, though the Vista Ridge deal involves aquifers impacting on many more counties and cities such as Bryan-College Station.
When the massive Vista Ridge $3+ billion, 142-mile Vista Ridge pipeline was rushed through the San Antonio City Council by their water utility – San Antonio Water System (SAWS) -- we asked just whose game was it? LIV quickly named the project "The San Antone Hose," stealing the phrase used years earlier for another project by former State Senator Troy Fraser.
Political independents likened The Hose to Rick Perry's failed Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), which would have required the largest land grab in Texas history for the public-private partnership aka The NAFTA Highway. A cross-partisan movement encouraged Carole Strayhorn in her 2006 independent gubernatorial campaign bid to make the TTC a top issue. She did, but the independent vote was split with Kinky Friedman. Rick Perry was reelected with only 39%. Nevertheless, the TTC bit the dust in the 2007 legislative session.
The problems with public-private partnership abuse have remained in Texas. The "P3" iVista Ridge project has kept citizen watchdogs from obtaining records that remain
private behind the private partners of Vista Ridge.
Watch our 17-minute video on this page (see the mama and baby horses), "We Oppose the San Antone Hose," released in 2015 and parked on this page. As you watch, just think about how mass movement of groundwater is being used to subsidize hyper-growth throughout Texas.
Water as a Subsidy for In-Migration Growth
The idea of subduing nature – our water supply – only recently went into overdrive in Texas
in 2013. That's when Governor Rick Perry ramped up his "Come to Texas" program,
especially water guzzling high-tech businesses from California. Our larger municipalities
(with City Councils dominated by Democrats) bought into the notion that all growth -- especially rapid growth -- is great. But, who pays for the infrastructure and what about our water and land
resources, the donations of real wealth in Texas? Who really pays? Current residents, rural
landowners and our aquifers -- Mother Nature's natural water storage beneath our feet.
Today, thanks to Vista Ridge pumping, slated to last until 2050, rural landowners are losing their water, but they still pay property taxes as if their water is still in place. Some landowners will soon be unable to dig any deeper to access water.
Watch LIV's 17-minute video about Vista Ridge, "I Oppose the San Antone Hose."
San Antonio Gives SAWS Green Light to Vista Ridge Bums' Rush
The $3 billion 142-mile Vista Ridge mega-water pipeline was opposed by many non-profit groups
and churches in San Antonio. Their fear was that San Antonio, one of the poorest cities in the
nation, would face harsh water rate hikes for a project doomed to reverse San Antonio's stellar
efforts to conserve water.
They were right. In 2022, drought has again hit Texas hard. San Antonio residents were allowed to
stay at Stage 2 watering restrictions while the Edwards Aquifer Authority enforced Stage 4 watering
Most San Antonio Chambers of Commerce were for Vista Ridge. Landowners learned after the deal was pushed through in San Antonio, that they were hornswoggled by a door-to-door salesman on probation for stealing $2.4 million from his former oil and gas employer. We're not making this up! It was reported in a newspaper of record, the San Antonio Express-News in 2006. But the San Antonio Council bit the bait from former legislator, Robert Puente, the CEO of SAWS that thousands of landowners were happy to "share" their water. Watch the video!
SAWS gave the 500+page contract for Vista Ridge the bums rush. In a mere 30 days of pretense review it was a done deal.
The unanimous approval from Republican and Democratic City Council members sealed the fate of San Antonio ratepayers and landowners. It was against all our interest.
A voter referendum to call the project into question with a public vote was impossible due to San Antonio's onerous petition rules for reversal of Council action -- approximately 70,000 signatures in 40 days.
Republican Joe Krier. Krier, the longtime former President of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, had gained a seat on the City Council. Krier was Vista Ridge's prime mover. Ironically, he lived in a wealthy subdivision with its own water utility, Cadillac Water Corporation. The San Antonio Express-News, to its credit, allowed for a debate on its front page between Krier and longtime aquifer advocate from Lee County and volunteer attorney, Michele Gangnes. Michele is an early founder of LIV who now serves on our Advisory Committee. Michele went on to help form a permanent non-profit organization dedicated to protection of the Simsboro aquifer, the source of pumping for the largest portion of precious groundwater for Vista Ridge. (More about the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund at the reference section of this page.)
In April 2020, the Vista Ridge Project started pumping full bore at 50,000 acre-feet per year. Within six months, landowner well failures began in the source communities of Burleson, Milam, and Lee counties. Just before this, SAWS had already started pumping but wasn't ready, resulting in dumping of $7 million of Vista Ridge water into a dry creek. They even held a press conference, with no press so they couldn't see the dumping. They got a $75,000 fine and continued on their merry marauding way. LIV wrote about it referencing mainstream media reports.
There remain serious questions as to how much pumping the slow recharging aquifers used for Vista Ridge can withstand. Aquifers are geological formations generated over thousands of years and cannot be simply "fixed."
Lee County landowners, Del Faske (L) and Henry Urban, on the steps of San Antonio City Hall.
2015 rally at San Antonio City
Hall with landowners from Lee, Bastrop, Burleson & Milam
counties united with San Antonio residents and activists.
LIV worked for two years to help shape our first large-scale "Homegrown Petition" drive for the SAWS Accountability Act. It was, unfortunately, in the height of the first wave of COVID. Yet some terrific volunteers gathered 12,000 of the needed 20,000 signatures for a public vote to gain oversight of SAWS and a simple audit of Vista Ridge. SAWS even spent taxpayer dollars with a sneak legal attack in a failed attempt to stop petitioners.
The "SAWS ACT PAC" coalition brought together a cross-partisan group rarely seen together in this time of partisan division. We joined together -- and we would do so today -- from across the Vista Ridge pipeline from rural Burleson, Milam, Lee and Bastrop counties to San Antonio and points along the way..
We especially thank LIV Advisors and attorneys, Michele Gangnes and James Murphy, and auditor, Colleen Waring (a Milam County landowner affected by Vista Ridge) who provided the support to draft the SAWS Accountability Act. The petition drive, led by Reinette King, Dr. Terry Burns (Alamo Sierra Club), Ellen Berky (LIV), Stan Mitchell (SAMBA Coalition), George Alejos (LULAC Zapatista Concilio 4383), Joe Caddell, Bob Martin (Homeowner Taxpayer Association of Bexar County), and Southwest Workers Union worked their hearts out. We apologize here for leaving out any of those who tried to make this happen in the year of COVID.
Special thanks to Bill Bunch and Save Our Springs Alliance for their rapid and vigorous
defense of petitioners in a sneak holiday legal action (a "1205 petition" by SAWS to stop petitioners. It failed.
Michele Gangnes (L), and Rinette King, receiving water awards.
Water Defender? That's you! Don't give up. It's just getting interesting.
Check out the non-profit "Water Defenders" -- the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund,Environmental Stewardship, the Central Texas Water Coalition, Save Our Springs Alliance and many more non-profit organizations we at LIV listen to in pursuit of Texas water policy that strikes a balance between development and conservation.
TAKEAWAYS FOR ACTION
Work with your local non-profit water defender groups and ask them to join LIV to advocate for this key water agenda for the 2023 legislative session:
Cross-regional supply projects undermine the State Water Plan, which costs taxpayers approximately $17 million to produce every 5 years. Cross-regional supply projects, like Vista Ridge, should only be allowed when every other option has been examined. In other words, let's give the State Water Plan some teeth.
As for Vista Ridge? Learn the facts by watching the "We Oppose the San Antone Hose" LIV video posted on this page and review the Facts on SAWS and Vista Ridge.
Read LIV Advisor, James Murphy's, riveting 2018 testimony to the Sunset Advisory Committee urging they take action to:
"Get the LCRA out of the groundwater development business and to return to their core mission of managing the water supply and environmental flows along the Colorado River."
Check out these important sources of background on Texas and California water policy:
In November 2021, Texas State University's Meadows Center for Water and Environment, released its study, "Five Gallons in a Ten Gallon Hat: Groundwater Sustainability in Texas." The Executive Summary on page 7 makes plain the time to act is now.
If you really want to understand what happened to California, watch the fantastic 4-part 1997 documentary, "Cadillac Desert," or pick up the book. As author Marc Reisner says in the documentary, "The idea of subduing nature captivated the whole country.
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