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URGENT VETO ALERT HB 1806

JUNE 4 update --- there's still time, please call the Governor!

THIS IS A NEW VETO ALERT ON HB 1806

June 4 update --- there's still time to call, the Governor has not signed or vetoed ---please call him if you haven't already. Below are some additional details on this bill ---

All you have to do is call the Governor's office ---512.463.2000 and say "Please veto HB 1806, Governor Abbott!"

 

And please go to the NEWS page or the HOME page and sign up for our email list --- we will automatically subscribe you to receive notice of all our NEWS items on this blog.

Additional history on HB 1806 (May 27 update):

Basically, HB 1806, as precedent, paves the way for buyers of groundwater like SAWS (SAWS is explicitly authorized in HB 1806) to become a broker of groundwater rather than, or in addition to being an "end user" (see Sen. Kolkhorst remarks in our letter below) --- HB 1806 gives SAWS explicit authority to sell the water they buy, on to the next buyer, or at least to sell assets that are "freed up' by the availability of replacement assets (in this case VR water is replacing some of the Edwards water SAWS already uses, rendering some Edwards water "surplus" and therefore perfect to sell for development in the Hill Country).

So, SAWS has an "asset" --- its annual entitlement of Edwards Aquifer water (in an amount determined as a result of the federally protected Edwards' agreed upon division of available Edwards water among all users -- that agreement was entered into years ago and limits use of Edwards water to within the boundaries of the Edwards Aquifer Authority).

SAWS did not need Vista Ridge water to start delivery as early as 2020, it has ample water for now. But the various special interests that profit from growth demanded SAWS sign the contract for up to 50,000afy and the VR private side held out for it to start delivery as early as 2020, so those special interests could start recouping their sunk costs in the VR plan ASAP [like design, engineering, attorneys, consultants, project managers, pipeline constructors, you name it special interests).

Under the VR contract it's not optional for SAWS to ask for less water; if VR delivers up to 50 they have to pay for 50 (It's a "take and pay" contract, essentially). The water is some of the most expensive, if not the MOST expensive in Texas.

Soon after the contract was signed, SAWS had to admit they would never need the full 50,000 afy from VR--- they would not need more than 35,000, permanently, so they made noises about selling the extra 15,000. Meanwhile, they realized they needed to substitute the VR water for 50,000 afy of their other water availability, by 2020. You can't just have 50,000 afy sitting around, and they had promised they would not put VR back in the ground as an Aquifer Storage and Recovery project.

But they either had to sell the 15000 afy of VR water their ratepayers would otherwise have to pay for or do something in lieu of that --- they chose the latter: sell Edwards water instead, probably because VR is so expensive, no one would buy the 15,000 afy. Also there is another big but cheaper water project being planned for the IH-35 corridor based in Hays-Caldwell counties.

So SAWS hit upon the idea of selling Edwards Aquifer water they received under their Edwards entitlement --- they had HB 1806 filed to let them go outside the existing limits/boundaries of the Edwards Aquifer Authority, previously not allowed under the federal lawsuit settlement. The Legislature cut the amount they could sell from "no limit" down to 6,000 afy, and the bill passed both chambers.[Still not clear to us if there is a potential challenge to the plan because it exceeds the federal limitations.]

If you are concerned we are being too harsh in our analysis or our predictions about SAWS and Vista Ridge, you should consider the San Antonio City Council's action earlier this month.

The real estate development industry were some of the strongest voices calling for the Vista Ridge project back in 2014. Even SAWS had decided at that time not to do VR in favor of cheaper brackish groundwater desalination. When the Chambers of Commerce chimed in with the developers (remember all those special interests mentioned above who stand to gain from an expensive water project), SAWS reversed course and signed up for VR/Burleson County groundwater from 142 miles away.

Fast forward to 2019 --- and now the developers don't want to help pay for San Antonio's billion dollars of infrastructure construction to receive and distribute the VR water.

The City Council obliged this month by waiving about $87 million in impact fees over a 10-year period for those same developers , while SAWS ratepayers will still have to pay rate hikes for the purchase of 50,000 afy of expensive water plus the infrastructure costs for decades.

HERE IS ANDY WIER'S LETTER FROM SAWDF about HB 1806 --- IT HAS ALREADY BEEN SENT TO THE GOVERNOR'S WATER POLICY ADVISOR --- please call the Governor to magnify the effect of this letter.

Only three senators voted against this bill before the Senate passed it onto the Governor's desk yesterday: Kolkhorst (Lee and Burleson counties), Schwertner (Milam County) and Watson (Bastrop County). We are disappointed no amendments were put on to further limit the bill but we have to count on the Governor not to throw the rural counties (that helped elect him) under the bus completely [he already failed to veto HB 1066 for us].

May 24, 2019

VIA Electronic Mail

Ms. Julie Frank, Policy Advisor

Governor Greg Abbott | Office of the Texas Governor

RE: Veto Request – H.B. 1806 (relating to the use of water withdrawn from the Edwards Aquifer by certain entities) sent to the Governor on May 23, 2019.

Dear Ms. Frank:

I am writing to request Governor Abbott veto HB 1806 because it sets a dangerous precedent for groundwater transfers; it undermines decades of litigation over the Edwards Aquifer; and it perpetuates an unnecessary financial burden on San Antonio Water System [SAWS] customers. I speak with some knowledge on the issues. I am a board member of the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund [SAWDF], a non-profit that provides public education and advocacy regarding beneficial use of groundwater, and protection of our aquifers and private property rights in groundwater.

SAWS has entered a water supply contract for the massive Vista Ridge groundwater project, which obligates SAWS to take delivery, starting in 2020, of up to 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater, each year, from the Carrizo and Simsboro aquifers underlying Burleson, Milam, Lee and Bastrop counties. The price of the water plus infrastructure costs needed to receive this water [a total cost of at least $3.2 billion], makes the Vista Ridge water the most expensive water in the state. SAWS has declared previously they only require 35,000 acre-feet/year of the Vista Ridge water.

Faced with an excess of 15,000 acre-feet of water, SAWS lobbied for the legislation in HB 1806 [as introduced] to allow SAWS to sell an unlimited amount of less expensive water from their Edwards Aquifer supply to developers outside the Edwards district. SAWS actively pursued HB 1806 as a remedy to their problem, rather than seek full relief for their ratepayers by selling the Vista Ridge surplus.

Senator Kolkhorst’s statement at the public hearing on HB 1806 summarizes the issue well:

… basically, my district is supplying water to SAWS so they can supply water to other parts. And I don't think it's fair! I don't think that's what we signed up for! …we have a bill that just basically says, "Hey, SAWS is going to start selling water!" And guess who's supplying that water? The people of my district! We thought that the contracts had been made because San Antonio couldn’t grow. … I'm not sure they all signed up to start supplying water beyond San Antonio. And I think this is a really bad precedent!

HB 1806 will set a bad precedent for unregulated transfers of groundwater which threaten Texas aquifers, and the millions of central Texans who rely on them.

This legislation is bad policy. It is terrible politics for our Governor, a conservative Republican who values the contributions of rural Texans. We respectfully request that Governor Abbott veto HB 1806.

Very truly yours,

/S/

Andrew Wier, Director

Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund

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