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“Sustainability, Equity, Preservation, Accountability”: A White Paper on the 2016 Region L Initially Prepared Plan and State Water Plans

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Region L Water Captains White Paper – September 8, 2015


Section One: Geographic Area of Region L

Region L, otherwise known as the South Central Texas Regional Water Planning Group (SCTRWPG), encompasses the following 20.5 counties: Atascosa, Bexar, Caldwell, Calhoun, Comal, DeWitt, Dimmit, Frio, Goliad, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Karnes, Kendall, La Salle, Medina, Refugio, Uvalde, Victoria, Wilson, Zavala, and part of Hays Counties. This region stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Hill Country with the largest metropolitan area, San Antonio, located near the center of the region. Other communities include Uvalde, Crystal City, Cotulla, Carrizo Springs, Boerne, Pearsall, Hondo, Jourdanton, Pleasanton, Boerne, Wimberley, San Marcos, Lockhart, Seguin, Gonzales, Cuero, and Victoria. Part of the Eagle Ford Shale is in this region. The following rivers are in the region: the Nueces, Medina, Gudalupe, and the San Antonio. The Edwards Aquifer provides potable water to a large portion of the human population in the region.


Section Two: Composition of Region L Planning Group

Currently all 30 seats on the Regional Planning Group are filled. The Chair of the five-member Executive Committee is Con Mims, who is the Executive Director of the Nueces River Authority. The Vice-Chair is Tim Andruss, the General Manager of the Victoria County Groundwater Conservation District. The Secretary is Gary Middleton, who represents the City of Victoria. The two At-Large Members are Dr. Donna Balin, a consulting and research geologist representing environmental interests, and Kevin Janak, with IPR-GDF-SUEZ Coleto Creek Power representing electric generating utilities.

The twelve interest areas have the following number of members on the Planning Group: Public – 1; Counties – 2; Municipalities – 3 (this includes the CEO of SAWS, the largest water utility in the Region); Groundwater Management Areas – 5; Industries – 2 (including the CEO of the San Antonio Manufacturers Association); Agricultural – 3; Environmental – 2; Small Businesses – 2; Electric Generating Utilities – 1; River Authorities – 3; Water Districts – 4; and Water Utilities – 2. The terms of office for voting members is five years.

There are seven non-voting members of the Planning Group. Three serve as liaisons from the surrounding Planning Regions (Regions J, K, and M). David Meesey serves as the liaison with the Texas Water Development Board. The San Antonio Bay Ecosystem Leader with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, as well as a representative from the Texas Department of Agriculture, and the South Texas Watermaster with TCEQ are the other non-voting members.


Section Three: Interaction and Transparency of the Region L Planning Group to Citizen Input

Since the Water Captains did not coalesce as a group until mid-May of 2015 when a Water Captains workshop was held, the Water Captains did not attend the regularly scheduled meetings of the Region L Planning Group during the first half of 2015.

However, one Water Captain, Rachel Cywinski, attended the second quarter Region L Planning Group meeting on April 2, 2015 in San Antonio. She reported: “Chairman Con Mims told me that I could opt to speak at the beginning or end of the meeting. He also offered, if I really wanted to specifically address item, to allow me to speak before. He indicated that even though speaking in the middle of the meeting was not the designated protocol, that he wanted citizens to be able to address the group about what they wanted to talk about. He said the meetings were long, and he wanted to show respect for the citizens who attended by honoring their wishes to speak in a way that allowed them to participate."

“At that meeting, I opted to speak at the end. I had general comments. I opened by thanking them for their dedication, etc. After the meeting, several made a point of meeting me and expressed surprise that a citizen had had anything nice to say, as they usually hear from those who are expressing anger or displeasure. I appreciated that [Chairman] Mims and other members had introduced themselves to me during breaks and encouraged me to participate even though they apparently thought I might say something unpleasant. Then after I spoke, [Mr.] Kight and some other [Planning Group] members were particularly expressive because they agreed with my comments, which were largely about conservation."

“I think the Region L members have been more welcoming to me as a citizen to be heard than any other group I've addressed…. So my experience at the last Region L [meeting] was a very good experience in being welcomed and encouraged to participate.”

Six Water Captains attended the September 3, 2015 quarterly Planning Group meeting. The Water Captains observed that the Planning Group punted the difficult recommendations from the public to an ongoing discussion for the 2021 Plan. They also learned that the public input that was received during the summer of 2015 was reviewed by a sub-committee, rather than the entire 30-member Planning Group. A priority ranking worksheet was used by the sub-committee that collapsed similar comments together and the Planning Group had responses to many of these comments. The priority ranking worksheet was not included in the agenda packet that was made available on the Region L website six days prior to the meeting. The Water Captains requested that these responses be emailed to us following the meeting.

Since the quarterly meetings are held during the daytime on weekdays, the meetings are not readily accessible to most working adults.

However, the Water Captains did prepare a 14-page document in response to Region L’s 2016 Initially Prepared Plan. In addition, six of the Water Captains individually presented comments on June 8, 2015 at the San Antonio Water System Customer Service Building at the first 2016 IPP public hearing. There were a total of approximately 20 organizations and individuals who made public comments at the meeting. The meeting, including the opening summary powerpoint presentation of the IPP, was less than 90 minutes. The Water Captains appreciated the fact that the public comments period was scheduled during the early evening, when working adults could participate. We encourage the Planning Group to make more opportunities available to the public during evening hours so that working adults can more readily participate.

All of the quarterly Planning Group meetings are scheduled at the San Antonio Water System Customer Service Building. This is a location that is centrally located in the region and closest to the largest population center in the region. The dates, times, and location are published on the Region L website.


Section Four: “Sustainability, Equity, Preservation, Accountability”

A White Paper on the 2016 Region L Initially Prepared Plan and State Water Plans

by

San Antonio Interfaith Power & Light “Water Captains”

Interfaith Power & Light and Water Captains are programs of the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy that equip Texans throughout our state to participate effectively in local and statewide public policy development and implementation. The views expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the board of directors of the Interfaith Center. Learn more at texasinterfaithcenter.org

“Let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream”

Holy Bible, Amos 5:24 (New International Version)

“…access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. …but water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.” - Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ May 24, 2015, Paragraphs 28 and 30.

1.0 Introduction

1.1   These comments are the result of a public “Water Captains” workshop jointly sponsored by the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy and San Antonio Interfaith Power and Light that was held on May 16, 2015. The workshop featured 10 speakers, including two Region L Planning Group Members, who discussed various aspects of water and water planning in Region L.  There were 42 attendees from a cross-section of people and interests in the Region.  Details of the Workshop are in Appendix A. The workshop was made possible by funding from the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment in San Marcos, through a grant from the SWIFT program at the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), for which we are very grateful.  Subsequent White Paper planning sessions occurred on May 21, June 6 and June 29 in San Antonio. Input has been provided via email by those who attended the workshop. Some of us attended the 2016 Region L Initially Prepared Plan (IPP) Hearing in San Antonio on June 8 and provided oral comments there. This White Paper expands on those comments.  Some of these comments are specific to Region L, and some apply to the entire State level. Recommendations are in bold.

1.2       As people of faith, we believe that everyone has a right to safe and sufficient supplies of water. This right was affirmed by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in stating, "The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights." The United Nations defines the right to water as “…the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses”.1 The UN designated the years 2005-1015 as the International  Decade of Action ‘WATER FOR LIFE’.2

1.3       As people of faith, we believe there is a moral responsibility for the Region L and Texas State Water Plans to be driven above all by the needs for sustainability, equity, preservation of the environment and accountability on the part of both planners and municipal water systems.  In 1987 the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “…meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."3 According to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2011, sustainability is “…inextricably linked to basic questions of equity — that is, fairness, social justice and greater access to a better quality of life…”.4

1.4       Sustainability is not mutually exclusive to growth and development. People tend to equate growth with jobs, but growth presents many demands on the utility infrastructure which may not correspond directly to creation of jobs. There will be growth and development in Texas even if no one moves here, due to births of people already here. Indeed, according to the City of San Antonio Planning Office, more than 50% of San Antonio’s growth during the past 10 years has been due to births, not influx. So the critical question is not if there will be growth and development, but how can they be sustainable and equitable even for the most marginalized groups of people and wildlife. 

1.5       The current water planning process is based on an economic formula of projected worst-case supply and demand among different stakeholders in a business model. It would be more equitable if it addressed the “Triple Bottom Line”: the three-legged stool of concern for people, especially the disadvantaged, the economy, and the environment.

2.0  Sustainability and Conservation

2.1       Conservation is the least expensive and most rapid way to provide more water, and we note that there are wide variations in per capita water usage across Region L, with significant numbers of residential consumers in mature urban neighborhoods averaging less than 50 gallons per capita-day (gpcd), while persons in newer neighborhoods with automatic lawn sprinklers average 114 gallons per capita-day.

2.1.1      Conservation programs should honor the capacity of every Texan, even very small or disadvantaged consumers, to be part of a collective strategy. Water rates should reflect these priorities, and ratepayer incentives should be an integral part of the conservation planning process.

2.1.2      A tiered rate structure should promote even more residential water conservation, while still being fair to residents. Many water-frugal residences in San Antonio are already using less than 45 gpcd, so rate tiers set at intervals of 30, 40, 50, etc. would encourage other households to curb their overuse.

2.1.3    The greatest injustice is the way fixed minimum charges and fees are structured. In 2013, the heads of the Mayors Water Council (U.S. Conference of Mayors) decried this kind of regressive pricing for water.

2.1.3.1  Fixed minimum charges hurt lower and middle-income households far more than higher-income households. For instance, that family of four, disqualified from the lowest rate, would likely face fees and fixed minimum charges making up more than half their bill.

2.2          We accordingly support the Best Management Practices for municipal conservation in the SCRWPA 2016 IPP, but feel the timetable for meeting the goal of 140 gallons per capita-day (gpcd) should be more aggressive than proposed in the IPP and urge the TWDB to consider even more aggressive targets. We also support the implementation of HB 4(2007) Water Conservation Advisory Committee as recommended in the SCRWPA 2016 IPP and believe that these goals should be incorporated immediately into ongoing planning efforts, as well as future planning.

2.2.1      This is particularly important with respect to water delivery infrastructure salvage, extension, and reconstruction; so that economies of scale may be achieved by building in separate piping structures sub-divided into uses as the infrastructure and subdivisions are built. Different meters could be installed to monitor different uses such as domestic potable water, irrigation, and common meters for treated waste water for entire neighborhoods. This would be an incentive for conserving water.

2.2.2 Furthermore, municipal water providers should set consistent priorities for water conservation and make clear connections between impact fees for new developments, water rate tiers, and water conservation objectives.

2.2.3      We encourage other municipal water districts to develop and implement effective conservation programs such as those by SAWS in San Antonio. As advocated by Dr. Calvin Finch, municipal water districts should also develop zero-discharge (re-use of waste water) as a conservation measure, to repair “lost water” leaks in their distribution lines, and to incentivize individual rainwater harvesting and re-use of gray water, especially in new developments.

2.3          While waste minimization is emphasized by the US Environmental Protection Agency, downstream protection is also very important. Re-use of treated waste water (zero-discharge) is an effective local conservation measure and reduces downstream contamination, but it does not provide for downstream recharge. 

2.3.1      The EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) framework is based on reducing introduction of water contaminants downstream of point discharges. However, we propose that reduction of discharge volume may be a significant factor in itself.  Whenever a community wants to implement zero discharge, it should be required to consider the potential effects on people, agriculture, estuaries and wildlife downstream in a formal Environmental Impact Statement. 

2.4          For surface water withdrawal rights, sustainability should be accounted for in terms of total possible river flow. Currently the total of withdrawal permits for all the surface waters of the State exceed the possible carrying capacity of those waters. The surface water withdrawal permitting process needs to be simplified to account for this, perhaps in terms of percentage of current real-time flow rate. This can be easily measured by remote-transmitting stream gauges. Therefore we recommend that more stream gauges be installed to account for flow in all the permitted surface waters of the State.

2.5          Inter-county and inter-regional transfer of water from agricultural to urban regions should be discouraged because the rural areas may need the water for growing food and to support their own human, livestock and wildlife populations. Let’s follow the Golden Rule.

2.6       Preservation of unpaved, minimally developed land in environmentally sensitive areas from development is critical to preservation of sustainability of ‘sufficient’ water quantity and ‘acceptable’ quality over the long run. More state funds should be available for conservation easements and purchase of urban lands suitable for open space.

3.0 Sustainable Landscaping 

3.1       Urban agriculture, native plantings, and edible landscaping, which are selected from species which are drought tolerant and use less water than turf grass, should be encouraged and pilot demonstration projects should be eligible for public funding.

3.1.1    A model for this is the State of California, which recently adopted a new rule limiting turf grass to 25 percent of the total area of lawns of at least 500 square feet.5

3.2       The San Antonio Food Policy Council and more people representing environmental and minority interests should be on the Region L Planning Council.

4.0  Water Quality and Security

4.1       Water quality is equally important for sustainability as water quantity and should be a part of water planning. Conventional wisdom has minimized the importance of contaminant transfer in the Edwards Aquifer, but a recent study by the USGS found agricultural chemical contaminants to be present, and that they may be transported in as little as two years.6

4.1.1    Agricultural chemicals are applied at higher rates in urban than in rural areas, and urban streams tend to be more polluted.7

4.1.2    Publically funded educational programs on proper use of agricultural chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) and training for organic gardening for gardeners in chemical free gardening, rain water harvesting, and micro-irrigation techniques would be helpful in preventing pollution of waterways, as well as encouraging natural means of pest control and creating habitat for beneficial insects and birds.

4.2       Surface reservoirs are less efficient, more expensive and more undesirable than aquifer storage and recovery for at least three reasons:

  • On-line surface reservoirs impact the flow of water downstream – negatively in drought and positively in floods, often to the detriment of wildlife living there.
  • Much water is lost to evaporation.
  • Surface impoundments are more susceptible to unintentional and intentional contamination (water terrorism) than Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR).

4.2.1    Therefore we recommend that aquifer storage and recovery be built preferentially to surface reservoirs for developing additional storage capacity.

5.0 Transparency and Accountability 

5.1       The TWDB and the Region L Planning Commission need to be explicit in how they arrive at numbers for the plans. For example, is the 140 gallons per capita per day residential and commercial water use in Region L an average of all users? If so, it would be skewed by the few highest users. And where do the population projections come from that the TWDB provides to the regions?  Are all municipalities using the same figures?  The source and methods used to derive the projections of demand and use should be transparent and accessible directly from the IPP.

5.2       We want transparent, truthful costs of water in terms of society, economics and business, environment and social aspects, and for these costs to be sustainable over time. Water providers may not always know the costs, but better cooperation among government entities may help. Municipalities and water providers should provide break-downs of all costs for proposed new projects, including the costs of energy transfers and associated increased water use for power generation.

5.3       All Regional and State water plans should be required to balance projected uses and projected availability, i.e. to achieve sustainability, preferably in 5-year increments, for each stakeholder group within each area. As shown in the WUG CATEGORY SUMMARY of Appendix A, the projected water deficit for the entire Region L ranges from 207,115 acre-feet/year in 2020 to 494,468 in 2070. 

5.3.1    At the HDR presentation in the Region L hearing on June 8, 2015, figures given for the projected total water deficit were only about half those shown in the WUG CATEGORY SUMMARY in Appendix A. Proposed projects were indexed toward meeting the lower expected deficits. The difference between the projected water deficits and capacity of proposed projects to make up those deficits needs to be reconciled.

5.3.2    The TWDB should perform analyses to determine how sustainability can be achieved for each user group in each watershed commonwealth for Region L and the State, preferably without resorting to transporting water from rural to urban areas or from one area of the State to another.

5.4       Communities need to be held more accountable for their past performance toward achieving water conservation goals. When they apply for public benefits, including not only other SWIFT-funded projects and applications for rate increases, but also when applying for affordability subsidies from the public purse, their water conservation goals should be a more important consideration of the SWIFT eligibility criteria, weighted toward receiving maximum points for successful implementation. We understand that the evaluation of implementation will depend on better record-keeping, transparency, and accountability at a local level, and these should be built into the planning process.

5.5       To prevent access to water from becoming a speculative commodity and to reduce the incentive for expensive-to-maintain sprawl and to develop building delivery infrastructure, the fair share of short-term public investment costs attributable to individual projects as well as the cost of extending infrastructure to deliver water and dispose of wastewater for new developments, should be applied to the new developments themselves as impact fees and not by disproportionately or unfairly increasing water rates and fees to tenured customers.

5.6       Long-term, all customers will need to pay for the increased cost of finding and delivering new sources of water. To avoid the manifold indignities and transactional expenses of forcing persons to apply for public assistance to pay their water bills, municipalities should develop ‘reverse mortgage’ fee schedules aligned with the length of time neighborhoods have been invested in their water infrastructure and collective water conservation.

5.7       We support the development of a Model Industrial/Mining Water Conservation Plan by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  Water usage for fracking should not be exempt from conservation or rationing measures applied to other uses.

5.8       Water rates should be balanced to be low enough to be affordable for the disadvantaged, while at the same time high enough to encourage conservation.  This is difficult to do, but more aggressive rate increases for high-volume users may help. We recommend a state-wide study of water rates and water transfer costs to determine if all costs are accounted for on the one hand and are not excessive (i.e. profitable) on the other.

5.9       Implementation of new and even experimental technologies such as large-scale condensation of water from air should be actively encouraged by the SWIFT program, so long as they do not damage the environment or contribute to inequalities.

5.10    Insofar as possible, public water districts should use only the water in their watershed commonwealth.

5.11    All aquifer levels should be monitored and published on-line for public access. Notably, the failure to publish levels of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer makes it impossible to determine how hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has affected water supply in that area.

5.12    Existing systems should have higher priority for access to water than new ones.  All new commercial and residential developments should be required to specify where the water to support them will come from, and there should be oversight to ensure that designation of water supplies is not duplicated among developments. If there is insufficient water in a worst-case scenario, the development should not be approved.  New developments should be required to adopt Best Management Practices, including native plants in landscaping and elimination of irrigation systems.

5.13    Preservation of land from development in environmentally sensitive areas is critical to sustainability of water quantity and quality

6.0 Looking Ahead

6.1       More effective cooperation between different state agencies with respect to water needs to occur. According to Table 1-10 in the IPP, agriculture used 37.8% of the total Texas water in 2012, and Best Management Practices such as micro-irrigation can save tremendous amounts of water for this use, especially important for agricultural projects which tap into ‘clean’ potable water supplies. Where appropriate, farmers should be required to implement Best Management Practices for agricultural water outlined in the SCRWPA 2016 IPP in order to qualify for drought relief subsidies.

6.2       With California and states in the arid Southwest on the brink of running out of water within a year, the burden of raising crops for the US will fall to other states such as Texas (and other countries such as Mexico). Water planning needs to account for this likelihood.  In other words, planning within sectors should be done on a multi-state level and with due consideration of the effect of international treaties and trade agreements.

6.3      We note that the ratemaking process as administered by the Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT) does not appear to interact with the water planning process, so stakeholders in the planning process may not have a way to consider how alternative scenarios could impact ratepayers. Likewise, water ratemaking is generally disconnected from broader environmental impacts, leading to incoherent planning, especially in the area of conservation. Therefore we propose linkage between water ratemaking and planning, including considerations of environmental impacts and sustainability as well as social equity.

6.4       We urge the TWDB to develop a rating model for each proposed water management strategy which is capable of evaluating impact fees and water unit costs in relationship to different combinations of other water management alternatives, with enhanced conservation strategies comprising the foundational elements. To help ensure that affordable water is available in the future and that Texans trust the process, the model should be transparent, coherent, scalable, and available in a user friendly format on the internet.

6.5       Perhaps all water regulation tasks currently performed by the TWDB, PUCT, TCEQ and other agencies should be combined into one state agency.  As a minimum, a Water Advocate Liaison could be funded by the Legislature to help the public navigate the increasingly complex territory of multiple agency water regulation.

6.6       Legislation should allow land use planning to be integrated at the municipal, county, and state level, for without this there can be scant hope for sustainability in water planning.

6.7       Texas water law needs to be based on science and the inter-connectedness of all water in the Hydrologic Cycle, and not on the outdated notion that groundwater is “occult” and discrete from surface water. Regulations on withdrawal of groundwater should be based on the same principles as those for surface water – i.e. all withdrawals, even for private use, should be permitted and regulated.

6.7.1    Critical to this new paradigm is giving aquifers the same standing as rivers, and giving more authority to the Underground Water Districts and Edwards Aquifer Authority. We recommend that the State Legislature establish a study commission to evaluate changes in the State water law during the next legislative session.

7.0 Conclusion

7.1       We would be happy to help you in implementing any or all of these ideas. As people of faith, we are not here to share our religion with you.  Instead, we are here because we have faith in the process, faith in the future of water for Texas, and faith that The Region L and Texas Water Plans can make significant contributions to the sustainability, equity, preservation and accountability of access to water in our State for all Texans, human and wild.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this public input.

-       Region L Water Captains     August 4, 2015

End Notes

1United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights   Article I.1 General Comment No. 15.  http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/0/a5458d1d1bbd713fc1256cc400389e94/$FILE/G0340229.pdf Accessed June 28, 2015.

2The right to water. UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, November 2002.  http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/human_right_to_water.shtml.  Accessed June 28, 2015.

3Bruntland Commission: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/42/ares42-187.htm.  Accessed June 28, 2015.

4United Nations Human Development Programme. 2011 Human Development Report. Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All. http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-report-2011  Accessed June 28, 2015.

5California Water Commission, effective December 1, 2015. Accessed June 28, 2015.

6Martha L. Jagucki, MaryLynn Musgrove, Richard J. Lindgren, Lynne Fahlquist, and Sandra M. Eberts. 2011.  USGS Fact Sheet 2011-3142 “Assessing the Vulnerability of Public-Supply Wells to Contamination: Edwards Aquifer Near San Antonio, Texas.” http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3142/pdf/fs2011-3142_Web.pdf   Accessed June 28, 2015.

7Wesley W. Stone, Robert J. Gilliom, and Jeffrey D. Martin.  2014. United States Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5154, “An Overview Comparing Results from Two Decades of Monitoring for Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Rivers, 1992–2001 and 2002–2011.” http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2014/5154/pdf/sir2014-5154.pdf.  Accessed June 28, 2015.

Appendix A

Contributors

Rev. Samuel D. Brannon, Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Convener

Sonia Jiménez, JD, Facilitator of Water Captains Workshop

 

Ellen Berky, AIA

Lucy Greer Burton

Rachel Cywinski

Betty J. Dabney, PhD

Diane M. Duesterhoeft

Carol Mendoza Fisher

Meredith McGuire, PhD

Marsha Meredith

Meredith Miller

Kamala Platt, PhD

Jeanna Stephen

Lani Van Petten

J. Paul de Vierville, PhD