In a move that surprised even the groups that mobilized against House Bill 1806, Governor Greg Abbott vetoed the bill on Saturday, June 15, one day before the bill would have automatically become law.
Veto statements by the Governor are often conciliatory to bill authors. However, the Governor had nothing good to say about HB 1806 or its intent.
The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) designed the bill to allow it to sell Edwards Aquifer water rendered surplus by a glut of Vista Ridge water due to arrive in the city from Burleson County next year.
Governor stops SAWS’ end run around water regulators
Abbott cited concerns the bill would authorize sales of Edwards water to counties which are outside the regulatory authority of the Edwards Aquifer Authority, thwarting the intent of legislation concerning the federally-protected aquifer.
He stated his veto maintains “the careful balance of water rights within the Edwards Aquifer Authority and ensures that the resources of the aquifer remain protected”.
Bill opponents cite SAWS’ arrogance; connect veto to Vista Ridge Project
“Those of us who live over the central Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer call Vista Ridge the ‘San Antone Hose’ for a reason,” said Michele Gangnes of the Lee County-based Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund. “We all feel ‘hosed’ by SAWS’ arrogance when it comes to our water rights and the health of our own aquifer. HB 1806 was simply a bridge too far for the Governor.”
The Times and News previously reported on how private property rights fared in the 2019 legislative session that concluded on May 27. House Bill 1806, passed late in the session, was a piece of unfinished business sent to the Governor on May 29.
Local groups like the Bastrop County-based League of Independent Voters of Texas (LIV) and the Simsboro Water Defense Fund immediately called for the veto, enlisting their supporters to mount a campaign to call and write to Abbott.
Elected officials, non-profits and hundreds of citizens called for veto
The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, Hill Country Alliance, Save Our Springs Alliance, and the Alamo Sierra Club joined hundreds of citizens who called the Governor to stop SAWS from becoming a groundwater broker.
Senator Lois Kolkhorst represents Burleson County and opposed the plan to allow SAWS to export Edwards water after first convincing her constituents the Vista Ridge supply was needed for San Antonio’s own growth.
One of SAWS’s new customers would have been a locally unpopular real estate development in Kendall County that the Legislature allowed to go forward in 2017 without any water supply.
In the days prior to June 16, Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, Lee County Judge Paul Fischer, Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape, and Giddings Mayor John Dowell rallied behind the veto campaign, along with Kolkhorst and Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.
Bastrop County Judge criticizes SAWS and Vista Ridge
Judge Pape’s letter to the Governor argued SAWS should have renegotiated its contract with Vista Ridge for only the water they actually need rather than offload Edwards water.
He cited HB 1806 as undermining the guiding principles for permitting groundwater export projects --- where the water is going, and why the transfer is vital to Texas.
SAWS signed the Vista Ridge contract in 2014 with Austin-based Blue Water Systems for what Blue Water’s website describes as the “largest groundwater transfer in the history of the United States”. The project’s water, when transported to San Antonio, will also be the state’s most expensive water ever.
League of Independent Voters challenges SAWS in San Antonio
“Thankfully, Governor Abbott turned The Hose on SAWS this time, confirming the old saying, with apologies to the Governor, ‘it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings’, said Bastrop resident, Linda Curtis. “It’s game on with SAWS and its pompous team of lobbyists who feed at SAWS’ publicly-funded trough.”
Curtis was widely credited by opponents of HB 1806 as a primary moving force behind the veto groundswell. She is a founder of LIV, which is working with a coalition in San Antonio to make SAWS’ management more accountable to the City Council and ratepayers, and to cause a full audit of the Vista Ridge Project.