"We've got forty days and forty nights," grassroots anti-PGA activist Joe Pagliare remarked recently, talking about the petition drive to force a referendum on City Council's vote in favor of the PGA Village project. Pagliare said he's under no illusions about what the anti-PGA side is up against — starting with a slick public relations campaign about to be launched by PGA proponents with deep pockets. "It's going to take organization," Pagliare acknowledged, "but we've got to do it."
The PGA Village boondoggle fits into a larger context of water and land use issues in the region. "Water," Pagliare says, "is nothing but liquid gold. SAWS plans to pump new water into the city from the north, the south, the east, and the west — and none of it is drinkable. But over 50 years, it's going to cost us $12.7 billion."
The PGA project and associated water issues also fall under the scope of the Gonzalez amendment, relatively unknown legislation that provides for federal aquifer protection as long as the Edwards is San Antonio's primary water source. Once the aquifer is not the primary source, then the Environmental Protection Agency can wash its hands of any monitoring or enforcement.
And SAWS' plans to pipe in gunky water from all points of the compass and then make San Antonians substitute this chyme for the crystalline water of the Edwards Aquifer — our vast honeycomb of limestone that contains 25 million acre-feet of some of the best water in the United States. Furthermore, SAWS really does propose to make its ratepayers pay through the nose for the privilege of drinking this lower-quality, treated water.
That outlandish $12.7 billion figure Pagliare drops is actually a quotation from the official Region L water plan — a dollar figure that supposedly covers 50 years of costs for that plan's principal, interest, maintenance, and operations. This works out to $359 million per year — actual costs will be hideously, unimaginably higher.
Despite its absurdities, the PGA Village plan is a microcosm of the larger Region L plan. The supposed "science" behind the PGA environmental protection plan fails to impress knowledgeable, disinterested observers. Ditto for the Region L plan. Do the financial projections of PGA proponents fail to convince? Well, neither do the blue-sky numbers in the Region L plan — and they run, as astronomer Carl Sagan used to say, to "billions ... and billions."
Can plans this monumentally bad result from simple incompetence? Many anti-PGA activists think not. They assume that representatives of the pro-developer junta will argue — with straight faces — that any development that they want to build over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone will somehow or other "protect the aquifer."
Similarly, perhaps the Region L plan isn't actually about protecting the Edwards Aquifer — or about providing for this region's future water needs. Presumably, good stewards who wanted to protect the aquifer would lay down stringent controls against building over the recharge zone, and then see to it that these controls were enforced. After all, the Edwards Aquifer is replenishable. With proper stewardship, it should form the keystone of all local water plans well into the future.
How could professional planners drop the ball like this? Perhaps they want to undermine the Gonzales Amendment, added to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act back in the '70s at the insistence of the late Henry B. Gonzales. In theory, this amendment is still in force, and it allows the EPA to oversee the protection of the recharge zone so long as the Edwards Aquifer remains the "primary" source of San Antonio's drinking water.
You may never have heard of the Gonzales Amendment, but for decades it has rankled developers who want to build over the recharge zone — and get Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration money for doing so. Over the years, one constant factor in the complex, bitter water wars has been the determination of local developers to fix things so that the Edwards Aquifer is no longer San Antonio's "primary" source of drinking water. This word has been variously defined, but if the Region L plan goes through, by 2030 no more than 35 percent of SAWS water will come from the aquifer.
At that point, the Gonzales Amendment will be history, and developers can get on with their primary aim: helping "Loopland" on San Antonio's North Side and extending its pseudopod of suburban developments north toward Austin. Does this vision sound paranoid? In Roman Polanski's 1974 cult classic Chinatown, a down-at-the-heel private eye played by Jack Nicholson stumbles across a plot to steal the water of farmers in the Owens Valley in California and divert it into the desert to create modern Los Angeles.
John Huston plays an evil water baron named Noah Cross, who tells the Nicholson character: "You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't." Cross, one hopes, is a fictional character, but the diversion of water from the Owens Valley really happened — and the loss of the Edwards Aquifer is a disaster waiting to happen, unless perhaps area citizens get a little more paranoid — pronto. FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Petitions for the PGA referendum can be signed, picked up, or dropped off at the following locations:
Save Our Aquifer Headquarters, 2108 N. Main, Monday through Friday, 9am- 9pm, 733-9884 or 733-9885.
Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, 922 San Pedro Avenue, Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm, 228-0201
ARTique Gallery & Frameshop, 3511 Oakgate (corner of Wurzbach and Vance Jackson), Monday-Friday, 10am-6pm, Saturday, 10am-4pm, 696-7926
Custom Structures Corporation, 10221 Desert Sands Drive, Suite 111, Monday-Friday, 8:30am-5pm, 541-0900
On the Internet, you can contact the anti-PGA coalitions at www.nopga.com and firstname.lastname@example.org