Guest Article: Vista Ridge Pipeline Project and Your Water Bill

Let your council person know if you support raising your water and sewer rates by 50% in order to support the Vista Ridge pipeline.

By Cliff Bingham

Cliff Bingham

By Cliff Bingham

A year ago the Council all voted to proceed with the Vista Ridge project.  Then they commissioned a study to determine the risk.  Maybe they should have called for the study before they voted to support a $3,400,000,000 project with no way to pay for it.  Now we are faced with a 50% increase in water and sewer rates to pay for that project.  Before they take that vote on 19 November perhaps all of them, and the voters as well, should read and digest the risks involved in Vista Ridge.

There are actually two reports.  The original called for by Councilman Nirenberg a year ago and an edited version which has been graded by “Five (anonymous) Experts.”

The final edited report is available here.

SAWS posted this video that appears to have been made last fall before the vote to approve the project.  If you go to the 33 min mark you can hear Chairman Puente say the estimated cost of the project will be $3 Billion.  That is still what they are saying today.  Then he says the required rate increase to pay for the project will be 16%.  Now it is 50%.  It appears that the original report was not acceptable to those pushing the project (see question 3 below), so they found “Five  (anonymous) Experts” to go through the report and add some yellow marks in all the appropriate places and change the risk rating on Vista from HIGH to MEDIUM.  A LOWER RISK RATING THAN THEY GAVE THE EDWARDS: see Table C in the final report.

They did not have time to do a thorough evaluation, as you will see in several of their comments in the FAQ’s, which they listed on their website and is linked to below.  These are not FAQ’s asked by the public or even the original author of the report.  They are the questions and answers generated by the team of “Five (anonymous) Experts” to justify their quick evaluation of the original report.

It is not clear how long the “Five Experts” took to grade the final report.  The original report took nearly a year to complete and appears to have been completed on 15 October.  The “Five (anonymous) Experts” final report is available now; it looks like they took about 3 weeks to complete their grading exercise.  That is easy when you know the answer you are after, a BETTER rating.

Why is it necessary that these Experts remain anonymous?  How can we follow the money to see if they have any interest in the project’s completion?

Here is an article on the current status:  Final Water Report Author: Errors of Draft ‘Fixed’.

“That draft has gone through a rigorous scientific peer review. Five experts in water and water-project related fields, including hydrology, engineering, and resource management, took hard looks at the methodology and recommendations of the report. (Readers of the 187-page report will find their comments highlighted in yellow boxes.)”

“These anonymous researchers independently concluded – without consulting with the City, the report’s sponsor, or SAWS – that there were substantial flaws in how data was interpreted and presented, Lopez said.”

They also did not contact the person responsible for completion of the original report to try and resolve the “flaws” or understand why the data was interpreted and presented in a manner not to their liking.

Here are the FAQ’s used to substantiate the results of the “Five (anonymous) Experts” editing of the original report.

From question 2.

“Since September, further work on the report has been facilitated by Dr. Roel Lopez, director of both TWRI and IRNR.”

From question 3.

“Previous comments by the report sponsor, key individuals, San Antonio Water System and others further validated the need to take the time to revise the earlier draft to provide an even more thorough and objective analysis.”

The rating given this project in the original report was “HIGH RISK.”   Obviously the council would be hard pressed to vote yes on the increased rate structure to fund a $3.4 billion dollar project with that rating, so another opinion was necessary.  The revised rating given by the “Five Experts” in Table C of the revised report is (lower number is better):

Edwards Aquifer      rating 0.563  Medium

Vista Ridge               rating 0.280  Medium

It would be interesting to hear the explanation of why Vista Ridge has only half the risk of the Edwards.

By the way, WE are already on the hook for $27,000,000 if council does not approve the 50% increase in water and sewer rates. It is going to be difficult for the Council to admit the initial vote to approve the project was wrong.

From question 5.

“The panel consisted of five well-respected water experts”

Why can’t we know who they are?

From question 7.

“This was done in the interest of time. It would have taken two to three months to revise the report using different methods and metrics and to integrate those and all other concerns and issues into a comprehensive report.”

It would have taken too long to do it right.  Why weren’t these “Five Experts” selected to do the report in the first place?  Sounds like what we hear from Congress when they pass a bad law.  “It’s not perfect, but it was the best we could do!”

From question 9.

In the July and October 2015 versions of the report, what was the meaning of a “high-risk” project as it applied to projects such as Vista Ridge?

“The basic risk factors the original authors evaluated for each water resource attempted to capture variability and/or unpredictability of that water resource.

However, the Science Review Panel concluded the risk scale was limiting in that it unintentionally overly favored or penalized some risk characteristics. Thus, the term “high-risk” as it applies in this report and in the previous draft is a relative term that has limited meaning in comparing projects.”

They didn’t like the term “HIGH RISK,” because it “is a relative term that has limited meaning in comparing projects.”

I thought all ratings were relative!

From question 11.

“Due to time constraints, we did not change the risk values assigned the projects in the October 2015.” [is something missing here? in the October 2015 what?]

Again they didn’t have time to do a complete evaluation.  They needed to get the rating in so the council can vote and pass this before the public finds out what is happening.

From:  Final Water Report Author: Errors of Draft ‘Fixed’.

“The report, in a sense, sacrifices its potential for clarity in the interest of transparency. It’s heavy with asterisks and side notes. Probably not exactly the report Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) had in mind when he initiated the report more than a year ago, but now that it’s done, City Council can vote on SAWS’ proposed rate increase and rate structure.”

More info here. Vote set on water pipeline’s future – San Antonio Express-News

Let your councilperson know if you support raising your water and sewer rates by 50% in order to support the Vista Ridge pipeline.

When you are in a hole, it is best to stop digging.

Cliff Bingham is a retired Air Force colonel and an engaged citizen watchdog and activist. He writes an email blog, “Birds Eye View,” and is a regular contributor to SATP communications.


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2 Responses to "Guest Article: Vista Ridge Pipeline Project and Your Water Bill"

  1. Roger Anderson  March 16, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    The stink of corruption in San Antonio and SAWS reaches all the way to Burleson County

  2. Linda Curtis  November 13, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you so much for writing about this. SAWS has pushed Vista Ridge so fast — a 724 page contract within 5 weeks last year. We came from the “forced donor” communities (Burleson, Milam, Lee and Bastrop counties) to plead our case to at least slow down and consider its impact not only on SA ratepayers, but landowners and the 300,000 + people who rely on this slow recharge aquifer.

    The silence of your council was telling.

    Councilman Krier is all for this ratepayer abuse. The 50% rate hikes (stair-stepped over 4 years) is just the beginning, we can assume, since there’s no information about what happens after that. Mr. Krier isn’t even a SAWS ratepayer.

    We will talk about this on Monday, November 16th at 6:30 pm at the Lion and the Rose Pub near the Palladium.

    There’s definitely a whiff of ratepayer revolt in the air.

    Best wishes,
    Linda Curtis, League of Independent Voters of Texas

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