Will Water Wars Drain Supply?

May 6, 2009 | Victoria Advocate by Gabe Semenza | Related Press

As an urban guzzler battles for rights to lower Colorado River basin water, many in the Crossroads worry stalled talks may hurt this region’s supply.

The San Antonio Water System on Tuesday declared the Lower Colorado River Authority in breach of contract for pulling out of a water supply project the two considered for years.

The Lower Colorado River Supply Project, proposed in 2001, was estimated to create up to 330,000 acre-feet of water for both agencies, including 150,000 acre-feet for San Antonio.

The Colorado river authority pulled the plug in mid-April when it deemed the basin lacked the water needed to feed San Antonio and future local needs.

Now, many in the Crossroads worry that thirsty San Antonio, projected to grow to 2 million residents by 2050, could turn its aim this way.

“If they can’t get water from the Colorado, they’ll certainly be looking elsewhere,” said Bill Jones, a Region L board member and spokesman for the the O’Connor ranches. “It just makes us more vulnerable, in short.”

Region L, a group that plans for this area’s future water needs, will keep an eye on San Antonio’s battle for water. Some worry the big city might now wish to put a straw in the Guadalupe River or area groundwater supplies.

San Antonio water officials contend the city has no plans to pump from here.

On Tuesday, the water system approved its 2009 Water Management Plan. In that plan, options include:

Ocean desalinization.

Asking Texas entrepreneurs to provide a plan to deliver water.

Building a new aquifer storage and recovery system.

“Nowhere in our plan does it say we’re going to go out and get water from Victoria,” said Greg Flores, vice president of public affairs for the San Antonio Water System. “While we’re not in desperation mode, we might have to start over with another project.”

San Antonio already gets about 60 percent of its water from the Edwards Aquifer, an underground water supply that feeds the Guadalupe River.

Flores said the city’s plan includes the option of recycling water used out of the aquifer.

Jerry James is the city of Victoria’s director of environmental services.

“We’re very interested in seeing San Antonio get alternative water supplies so it can reduce its need of the Edwards Aquifer, which feeds the Guadalupe,” James said. “We are concerned it can’t get that alternative water supply.”

Water levels in the Edwards Aquifer affect the Guadalupe River, which is Victoria’s primary source for drinking water. Victoria just reserved 5,000-acre-feet of river water, adding to its 20,000-acre-feet per year permit.

The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority governs use of the river. Bill West is that authority’s executive director. Like James, West said he worries about increased use of the Edwards Aquifer, which can effect economies and ecosystems.

A $2 million study released last week, however, suggests record winter whooping crane deaths might not be solely attributed to drought and lower river flows. West’s group paid for a large portion of the study.

Decreased river flow, no doubt, alters the amount Crossroads residents and wildlife have to drink. Some biologists blame the drought and low river flow for the alarming deaths of the endangered bird.

With people, wildlife, industry and a proposed nuclear power plant all vying for use of the Guadalupe River, even West fields concerns his group will dole out too many rights.

West said the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority has no intentions of sharing river water with San Antonio. A future proposed Victoria County nuclear power plant already owns rights to 75,000-acre-feet, he notes.

“If Exelon doesn’t go forward, there’s a larger amount of water for use in our basin. It’s all ear-marked for use in this basin,” West said.

Still, West’s words don’t calm everyone.

“It stands to reason if you release the pressure on one river it could possibly shift to the other,” Jones said.

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