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ELECTION: SARA 2003 / HIGH STAKES IN A LOW-KEY RACE

Incumbent Tom Weaver, 70, who serves District 4, was general manager of the Cibolo Creek Municipal Authority for 18 years, and favors the GBRA project. He is seeking a second term and faces opposition from Billie Zimmermann, 67, a San Antonio real estate broker, who opposes it.

Weaver agreed that the GBRA agreement to divert surface water by pipeline from the Guadalupe River San Antonio would be expensive. "But it's the only source of water that will meet our needs and we have to have a regional water plan that will provide enough water for the population of the region by the year 2050, as mandated by the Texas Water Development Board."

However, Zimmerman said if voters do not get involved in this election and the GBRA deal is implemented, Bexar County water users will wonder what happened when their water rates increase years from now.

"Some say the GBRA deal is going to cost in excess of $1 billion just for construction alone," Zimmerman said. "In fact, I haven't found anyone at SARA who can say how much this is going to cost and where the money is going to come from. But if this goes through, and when people's water bills go up years from now, people are going to wonder what happened. So now is the time for voters to get involved and to speak up."

Zimmerman said she attended a public hearing at Trinity University three years ago on the GBRA project and 90 percent of those who attended opposed the project.

Carol Patterson, a Zimmerman supporter who has served on the Board of Directors of the Edwards Aquifer Authority since 1996, agreed that the plan for diverting water from the lower Guadalupe River is the main issue in the election.

"They need to look at the plan from an economic point of view because it's a hugely expensive option," she said. "The project is estimated to cost in excess of $850,000 and the quality of water will be less than what we currently have."

Patterson said SARA has been reluctant to compare the GBRA project with less expensive options. "The GBRA deal is being given preferential treatment," she said. "They're focusing all their energy on that one project. Diverting water from the coast and pumping it back to San Antonio is going to be an enormously expensive project. So the question is, what are we going to do? Make efficient use of our resources, or spend enormous amounts of money to pump water from the lower Guadalupe River."

Patterson, although hesitant to speculate in regard to SARA's motives, nevertheless said its position in regard to the GBRA project is "purely political".

"If you put this in the hands of purely technical people, you'd get entirely different results," she said. "The GBRA deal is clearly inefficient but it's the defining issue in this election. Unfortunately, the general population in Bexar County doesn't know what's about to happen at SARA."

Incumbent Louis Rowe represents District 3 and is seeking a second six-year term in his race against Henry Podesta, 51, a business consultant and Paul Dahlgren, 52, an account executive with SER Jobs For Progress.

Rowe, an electrical engineer and majority owner of Goetting & Associates in San Antonio, said an interlocal agreement signed by the city, county and SARA last November is an important step towards the implementation of a regional water plan.

"We've had two major floods, one in 1998 and the one last year," he said. "And the city and county and SARA are now working very closely together to study projects for a regional water plan. The group is currently studying a model of the entire region and looking at various projects including dams, drainage projects and flood control projects. Once the model is completed, we can then prioritize projects and begin creating a financial model to fund the projects. But it's all in the planning stages right now."

Dahlgren said if elected, he would want to study alternatives to the GBRA project. "I think evaluating options to see how to get the maximum return on investment is important," he said.

Podesta couldn't be reached for comment.

Since scientific studies and economic forecasts have suggested the GBRA deal would spike water rates for San Antonio citizens and degrade the city's water quality, voters should consider their alternatives before choosing a candidate. •


EARLY VOTING SITES

The SARA board consists of 12 members. Board members serve six-year terms and elections are held every two years. Running in Bexar County are Tom Weaver and Billie Zimmerman in District 4, and Louis Rowe, Henry Podesta, and Paul Dahlgren in District 3. The district boundaries are the same as Bexar County Commissioners Tommy Adkisson (District 4) and Lyle Larson (District 3).

The San Antonio River Authority was created in 1973 as a special purpose political subdivision of the State of Texas. Its jurisdiction covers 3,677 square miles, which is generally the watershed of the San Antonio River and includes Bexar, Wilson, Karnes, and Goliad Counties.

Early voting will continue through January 28, from 8 a.m.- 5 p.m., excluding holidays and Sundays. Polling locations for early voting are:

Crossroads Mall - 4522 Fredericksburg

Rolling Oaks Mall - 6909 N. Loop 1604 East

Shavano Baptist Church - 5047 DeZavala

Brookhollow Public Library - 530 Heimer

Bexar County Justice Center - 300 Dolorosa

McCreless Mall - 4100 S. New Braunfels

Universal City, City Hall - 2150 Universal City Blvd.

Early voting mail-in ballots may be obtained at the Bexar County Elections Office, located at 203 W. Nueva, Suite 361.

Voters in the February 1 election will be the first to use Bexar County's new touch-screen voting machines. Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. A list of polling places is available at the Bexar County Elections Office.


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