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 when the largest public-private partnership water pipeline in the nation – Vista Ridge – touted as a positive "game-changer," was forced on rural, suburban and urban Texans against our interests.

 

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? It was quickly named the project "The San Antone Hose."

 

Political independents likened The Hose to Rick Perry's failed Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), a land grab and another massive 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. 

mama and baby horse

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

640px-Texas_drought_2011_gif.gif

                               Water as a Subsidy for In-Migration Growth

The idea of subduing nature – our water supply – only recently went into overdrive in Texas

in 2014. 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 Council's 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.

 

That same year, 2014, the largest public-private partnership water pipeline in the nation –

Vista Ridge – was rushed through the San Antonio City Council by the city's water utility --

San Antonio Water System (SAWS). SAWS touted it as their positively brilliant "game-changer."  

Yet, Vista Ridge is conveying the most expensive groundwater in the country. It was then and

still is an unnecessary project for which San Antonio ratepayers are paying not for their own

use, but for buildout between San Antonio and Austin. Lookout Texas Hill Country, here we come!

 

                    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. 

 

All the Chambers of Commerce were for Vista Ridge. Landowners, having learned the extent they

were hornswoggled by door-to-door salesmen arm-twisting them with supposedly lucrative water

leases, named the project "The San Antone Hose." After a charade of "public meetings" (to which

most citizens could not attend) SAWS gave Vista Ridge the bums rush, a mere 30 days of pretense

review. The unanimous approval from mostly all Democratic City Council sealed the deal. A voter

referendum to call the project into question was impossible due to San Antonio's onerous petition

rules requiring 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 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." 

Screen Shot 2021-11-11 at 6.54.20 PM.png
Henry_Del.jpg

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

file1.jpg.jpeg

2015 rally at San Antonio City Hall with landowners from Lee, Bastrop, Burleson & Milam counties and San Antonio residents and activists.

                            A failed experiment and victim to COVID, taught us much.

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 (Bexar County).

 

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) and Stan Mitchell (SAMBA Coalition) worked their hearts out. We apologize here for not naming so many 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 working to hold SAWS accountable.

ichele_reinette.jpeg

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. Ask them to join LIV to advocate for the Sustainable Groundwater Development Act (SGDA), in the 2023 Legislative Session. A foundation of the SGDA is 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? Water Defenders (SAWDF and Environmental Stewardship) continue to work on how to conserve the aquifers and to prepare for the worst-case scenario -- aquifer damage. Support them and insist that your Texas House and Senate members do too no matter where you are in Texas.
     

  • Watch our 17-minute video on this page, "We Oppose the San Antone Hose" released in 2015.
     

  • Advocate for broad-based reforms put forward by LIV and become a member or donate today.

Water_Defenders.png