Rivard beats on limp BexarMet GM at Pearl water forum

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I snuck into the Pearl Stables for a bit of stall mucking yesterday and found perennial moderator Express-News Editor Bob Rivard had beat me to the punch. It was a panel talk on the future of water in the region, the dais populated by all the usual aquatic suspects: expensive ties (and one power suit) from SAWS, BexarMet, Texas Water Development Board, and private industry interests. The San Antonio Clean Tech luncheon quickly devolved into journalistic S&M, with Rivard riding whip and BexarMet’s GM Victor Mercado (right) choking on the gag. Rivard ran down the laundry list of grievances against BexarMet, including the recent firing a whistleblower decrying the utility’s financial health and recent pledges to file a bill again this upcoming Legislative session to dissolve the utility (see this week’s QueQue). “What do you say to all this?” Rivard concluded his lengthy set-up. The room erupted in laughter. “BexarMet is finally stable,” responded an owl-eyed BM GM Victor Mercado. “It has 90 days of operating expenses. It has never defaulted on any of its debts or payments.” Rivard stepped in again. Would Mercado consider selling just a fraction of coverage area, say, Stone Oak, which is already ringed about by SAWS water and sewer lines? (A burst of applause.) And closed with a theoretical: were he buying a house today, would Mercado choose a BexarMet or SAWS service area? At this Mercado finally summoned some vinegar, spitting back that service problems have been overblown by the media. “We actually receive very few complaints.” “I give you points for being an optimist,” Rivard replied. SAWS President Robert Puente, however, said he hears constantly from BexarMet customers, urging him: “Please take us over.” While dissolving BexarMet would be a voter decision, Puente said the city utility is prepared to act. In fact, a detailed plan has been sitting on a SAWS shelf for years. And (voters are you listening?) there would be “immediate” cost savings, he pledged, “because we don’t have to compete for the same water.” But Puente broke from the Mercado pile-up momentarily to fire a barb at Rivard, complaining that the paper was nowhere to be found when he was moving legislation to dissolve BexarMet years ago. “I sure wish I could have had that help back when I was in the Legislature.” Rivard deflected that criticism by giving Mercado yet another good-natured kick to the 'nads. Pausing for a drink of water, Rivard praising the delicious fluoride in his glass of SAWS’ product. In a cost-saving move, BexarMet recently voted to stop putting the industrial byproduct in their supply, inspiring (what else?) a cantankerous Rivard column. Of course on the topic of water, Rivard as opinion-maker has some make-up work to do. Last water rally, he came away high on billion-dollar notions of ocean desalination, taking some well-earned jabs, including from yours truly. Puente drove home the message at yesterday’s forum that desal does not have to mean Gulf of Mexico water moving uphill through massive pipelines. “Why do we have to go to the Gulf for salt water when we have it right here in Bexar County,” he asked. “We’re in a situation right now where we say, ‘damn, we hit fresh water, because we’re looking for salt water, for brackish water.” If you weren’t one of the starched/pressed and visibly monied members in this sold-out crowd, you can catch the broadcast on KRLN tonight.

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