The Edwards Aquifer is entering a critical period. Yes, it’s still a remarkable source of drinking water by national standards. But increasing development across the recharge zone and surrounding area is resulting in signs of contamination. Months back, outgoing Edwards Aquifer Authority District 3 Board Member George Rice detailed the appearance of pesticides and toxic compounds at points throughout the water body, begging the question of San Antonio: will we take decisive action to protect the aquifer by limiting development above ground that contributes to that slow decline of water quality, or will we opt instead to construct multi-million dollar water treatment plants built on the backs of SAWS ratepayers? Now Rice, a noted hydrogeologist with decades of experience investigating water-quality risks from hazardous substances across the state, has been unseated, along with two colleagues. It remains unclear what sort of EAA we voted into office in this month’s election. What is clear is that Rice was a leader in advocating for greater limits on development to guard the aquifer. It was an effort that ran into swift political resistance, according to documents released to the Current under state open record request.
State Senator Jeff Wentworth wrote back in February to then General Manager Velma Danielson, “Although I recognize the need to protect our water resources, the legislation that created the Edwards Aquifer Authority does not provide the Authority with the ability to regulate land use. In addition, new regulations are costly to develop and implement, and these costs are then passed on to the Authority’s permitees.” Sob.
He was followed in March by state Representative Edmund Kuempel, who wrote Danielson about his “severe concerns” about limiting development, including the possibility of devaluing constituent lands and, thus, tax rolls. (Of course, the inverse is more likely as developable property over recharge lands to become a premium commodity.) He then not-so-gently reminded Danielson that the representative who wrote the enabling legislation that created the EAA did not intend to create an agency that fretted about water quality. And, by the way, that rep (former state Senator Ken Armbrister of Victoria) is now Governor Perry’s director of legislative affairs. Does Good Hair know what you’re up to? Kuempel asked.
And so we’ve been left with what are called Best Management Practices, a variety of engineering arrangements with a dubious track record.
And the elections?
Rice was surprised by his defeat, interpreting the shift as a recall on his Anglo surname more than a reaction to his politics. And, to be sure, his pro-environmental sentiments are being echoed by the man who knocked him from the saddle: local attorney Lauro Bustamante, a relative unknown in water circles.
Other shifts included the defeat of District 9 member Mark Taylor by Ron Walton, and the rise of Peggy Jones in District 11.
In an interview with the QueQue this week, Bustamante cast himself as a staunch environmentalist, a supporter (though not a member) of the Green Party, and possessed by a drive to protect the Edwards for low-income residents, especially. However, he does not advocate limiting the ability to develop over the aquifer. “Green” building and electric vehicles would eventually ease the impact of roads and rooftops, he said.
Jones, who launched her campaign after the EAA began to snoop her well, is opposed to nominal monitoring fees the EAA has been trying to assess for private water wells. She suggested small property owners should be passed over in favor of attacking the largest water users (read: San Antonio). How Bexar County should be policed differently, however, she didn’t know. But keeping the Authority in check is a priority. Reports required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality whenever a water well is drilled or capped are sufficient, she said. However, as Texans well know, when it comes to the TCEQ (as another water watcher dished): “The problem literally has to be on fire before the state will do anything about it.” Ask Mulchie about that sometime. Or the Leon Valley Superfund polluters … if we could find them.
That said, if you want to try to push the TCEQ to enact more meaningful protections for the Edwards we know and cherish, you can attend their annual hearing on rules governing development over the aquifer at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, November 18 (Alamo Area Council of Governments Board Room, 8700 Tesoro Drive, Suite 100).•