The Big Squeeze, aka the California Water Model

Water is the most valuable resource on the planet. But the Texas Legislature is far too busy with culture wars, in-fighting, strangling the opposing party, political deals and throwing us red meat to pay attention to 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" is a proven disaster. Why can we not learn from it?

If you really want to understand what happened to California, watch the fantastic 4-part 1997 documentary, "Cadillac Desert," or pick up the book. The stage was set for disaster 100 years ago when California enacted policies to move its vast water resources from northern and central California to a desert known now as Los Angeles. It was also about the time California started experiencing protracted drought.

 

As author Marc Reisner says in the documentary, "The idea of subduing nature captivated the whole country.

                      Independent Politics and Public-Private Partnerships

 

Short-sighted water policy has been in place in Texas for a long time. Texans, at least those paying attention, 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 – was forced on rural, suburban and urban Texans against all of our interests.

 

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), a land grab and another massive gamed 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 has remained a problem in Texas. It is a critically important problem with lack of transparency of the Vista Ridge project and the deforming of Texas water policy. Essentially, citizen watchdogs have been unable to obtain records that remain private behind the private partners of Vista Ridge. 

Watch our 17-minute video, "We Oppose the San Antone Hose," released in 2015 and parked on this page. As you watch, just think about how water is subsidizing hyper-growth throughout Texas. 

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Watch LIV's 17-minute video about Vista Ridge, "I Oppose the San Antone Hose."

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                               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 all great. But, who pays for the infrastructure? Current residents, rural landowners

and our aquifers -- Mother Nature's natural water storage beneath our feet.

 

                    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. Besides, everyone knew the water was destined for buildout of a metroplex

between San Antonio and Austin. 

 

Most San Antonio Chambers of Commerce were for Vista Ridge. Landowners, having learned the

extent they were hornswoggled by door-to-door salesmen arm-twisting them and cursing them with

supposedly lucrative water told this repeated story. That when they continued to refuse to lease or

sell their water, marketers told them they would get it anyway because their neighbors had signed.

 

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 mostly all Democratic City Council sealed

the deal. A voter referendum to call the project into question with a public vote was impossible due

to San Antonio's onerous petition for reversal of Council action -- approximately 70,000 signatures 

in 40 days.

 

One of the few Republicans on San Antonio City Council at the time was Joe Krier. Krier, the

longtime former President of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Krier was Vista Ridge's prime

mover. Ironically, he lived in a wealthy subdivision with its own water utility, Cadillac Water

Corporation.

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. Mind you, Vista Ridge LLC has a 30-year contract. 

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." 

Click here for LIV's Vista Ridge FACTS, this is the long and winding story with documentation yet to be countered by the prime movers of Vista Ridge. If you have questions or challenges, please do contact LIV.

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Lee County landowners, Del Faske (L) and Henry Urban, on the steps of San Antonio City Hall.

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2015 rally at San Antonio City

Hall with landowners from Lee, Bastrop, Burleson & Milam

counties united with San Antonio residents and activists.

     A victim to COVID, the SAWS Accountability Act, as accountability at SAWS still needed. 

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.

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Michele Gangnes (L), and Rinette King, receiving water awards.

                                                 Water Defender? That's you!

Check out the non-profit "Water Defenders" -- the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund, and

Environmental Stewardship. Both organizations continue to pursue getting Texas water

policy to strike the balance between development and conservation. They're all-volunteer,

like LIV. We all depend on your participation. Don't give up. It's just getting interesting.

                                                        TAKEAWAYS FOR ACTION

  • Work with your local non-profit water defender groups and ask them to join LIV to advocate for our water agenda in 2023. Check this webpage for the agenda coming soon, or contact us. The heart of the agenda will be this:

    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:

    "Tet 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."
     

  • Become a member of LIV or donate today.

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