San Antonio Pursues Record Water Project Amid Drought

San Antonio, the second-biggest city in Texas, is pursuing public negotiations with the Vista Ridge Consortium that includes Abengoa SA for a record $3.3 billion, 142-mile (228-kilometer) water well field and pipeline.

A 30-year contract for 50,000 acre-feet of water annually at $110 million a year may be signed next month with final approval by year-end, Greg Flores, a spokesman for the San Antonio Water System, said in a telephone interview. That would supply 162,000 more families so the city can grow, he said.

The water level in the Edwards aquifer, which accounts for about 70 percent of San Antonio’s supply, dropped so low that yesterday its manager for the first time cut pumping allocations by 40 percent. San Antonio kept its lawn-watering limit at 4 hours a week, saying an underground reservoir and other sources can meet demand during the state’s drought.

“The drought is not over,” Carlos Rubinstein, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, said at a public meeting yesterday. The state will lose 1.1 million jobs at a cost of $115 billion a year by 2060 without such projects, he said.

Almost 800 Texas public water systems are rationing water, with some restrictions dating from the state’s record drought that started in 2011, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The U.S. Drought Monitor map for Texas released Aug. 7 showed about 36 percent of the state in the three most severe stages of drought.

Edwards Aquifer

San Antonio has spent $850 million the past 10 years to supplement Edwards aquifer wells, once its only water supply, by 53,000 acre-feet a year, Flores said. It saves 62,000 more acre-feet with permanent conservation that includes a 110-mile network carrying recycled water for irrigation and industry.

San Antonio Water Chief Executive Officer Robert Puente disputed skeptics at the meeting, saying the $3.3 billion project is not only necessary but inadequate alone to meet a forecast increase in annual water use of 70,000 acre-feet per day. The consortium Puente has committed to wants the well field and pipeline in service by 2019.

The water system in March agreed to spend $109 million on its first desalination plant for brackish groundwater, and broke ground last month on the first phase of the new facility that’s due to open in 2016.

San Antonio is the state’s second most-populous city at 1.33 million, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Houston is largest.

(Corrects project description in lead, spelling of chairman in 4th paragraph of story published Aug. 13.)
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