At the bottom of this year's ballot are two important issues facing northern Bexar County voters: an opportunity to formalize the Trinity Glen Rose Conservation District, which the state legislature temporarily established to protect the Trinity Aquifer from contamination and overpumping; and to vote for board members. (Taxes will fund the district, but residents will determine the mechanism in a separate vote.)
Predictably, these races include candidates who are also developers — with an agenda other than aquifer protection. More chillingly, three of the five candidates have no challengers. District 1: Roy Horn, real estate developer — unopposed. District 2: Brad Groves, not a developer, a civil engineer — unopposed. District 5: William Pitman, homebuilder — unopposed.
The development community has also fielded candidates in the two contested races. In District 4: Medallion Homes developer John Friesenhahn faces Thomas Swoyer Jr., president of an environmental cleanup company specializing in groundwater issues. And in District 3, surveyor Gary Gibbons, who has been the chairman of the temporary board, battles developer G.G. Gale, also a water producer and well owner who stands to profit not by guarding the aquifer, but by protecting his own interests.
Last week, Gale invited civil engineer Mark Brown and James Allen, co-owner of Water Exploration Company, to his neighborhood meeting about the Trinity Aquifer. The meeting — which according to the flier, sounded more like a campaign rally, was held at the Timberwood Park Clubhouse — a building owned by Gale, who developed the housing subdivision over the Trinity Aquifer. The meeting happened after the Current's deadline and Gale couldn't be reached for comment.
The Trinity race, although vital, hasn't yet commanded the attention of high rollers. (Although there is still time: On October 16, Edward Aquifer Authority Board candidate George Rice told the Current that a representative from Earl & Brown offered him a campaign donation from one of their clients; Rice refused the offer.) However, Earl & Brown have had their hands in this race. According to Gibbons, the lobbyists offered to form a political action committee to help raise the $50,000-plus required to get the conservation district and board race on the ballot. Gibbons spoke at the fund-raiser for the election, but said he decided not to take the money — Gibbons said an elected county official warned him that he was "dancing with the devil" — and instead received a $100,000 grant — $50,000 immediately and $50,000 if citizens choose to formalize the board — from the San Antonio River Authority.
Gale has loaned himself $1,000 for the campaign; Gibbons has raised $45. The other candidates reported no contributions or expenditures. The October 28 financial reports were not ready by press time.
Opponents of the groundwater district are distressed over House Bill 2005, which was mysteriously rewritten at the last minute to — in their view — favor developers. The Green Party's Ed Scharf and a northern Bexar County citizens' coalition want a new bill before the board is formalized. While district proponents agree the bill is weak, they contend its intent was to encourage Fair Oaks Ranch to get its water elsewhere. Under the bill, if a pumper gets more than 50 percent of its water from a source other than the Trinity, they are exempt from production fees.
The Trinity is under siege, not just from residential development, but also commercial ones. A SAWS representative confirmed at an October 24 City Council meeting that it will pump from the Trinity Aquifer, as well as the Edwards, to serve the new PGA Village.
The Trinity can't handle the additional load. A 1993 report by consultant W.E. Simpson concluded that the aquifer had been overpumped by 195 million gallons; the report estimated that by 2020 that amount could increase to 1.6 billion gallons.
Considering the threats facing the aquifer, powerful legislation with an environmentally friendly conservation district board are the only ways to protect the Trinity. Yet, considering the number of developers stacking the board, that outcome looks increasingly unlikely.
LEARN ABOUT THE ISSUES ON DNET
Tired of the 30-second soundbites? The nauseating political ads? To read full text debates, position statements, and other candidate information, go to the San Antonio Area's League of Women Voters Web site (www.lwvsa.org), which is linked to Democracy Net.
Scroll down on the League's Web site to link to Dnet, a national site for election information. From there, you can type in your ZIP Code and learn about who is running in local and state races.