Pipeline construction raises safety concerns
By LPR Staff
In 2014, the San Antonio City Council approved a $3.4 billion, 142-mile pipeline project that will drain water supplies from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer via a pump site in Burleson County. The project, which proposes to tap approximately 50,000 acre-feet, is expected to increase water availability to t
he San Antonio Water System (SAWS) by more than 20 percent, and provide enough water for more than 162,000 new families.
Despite drawing fire from property owners not only in Burleson County near the aquifer and landowners across the span of the pipeline, construction began this summer, cutting a swath through northwestern Caldwell County.
Chief Mark Padier of Chisholm Trail Fire Rescue said when the project broke ground that he would be taking special interest in the construction; he was among the first on scene of a fatal trench collapse in Lockhart last summer. That incident is still under OSHA review.
“They’re going to be cutting through a lot of land in our area, and I want to know that they’re doing it safely,” he said at the time. Thus far, there have been no reports of any safety incidents as a result of the construction, Padier said.
“They are following the existing LCRA easement,” Padier said on Wednesday. “And I haven’t heard anything about property owners having any problems with them.”
As early as 2015, the Central Texas Regional Water Supply Corporation began contacting property owners to request “right of entry” to properties, offering compensation for the use of private property. There have been no reports of any takings, as the pipeline is following an existing right-of-way.
Padier said he has put Austin Fire Department on notice that he may have to call on them, should their be an incident.
“They are digging between 15 and 25 feet, and I don’t have any equipment that can get down that far if there is a problem,” he said. “Right now, they are boring under Lytton Lane, but then they will be crossing into Bastrop County.”
As recently as March, stakeholders were still battling the pipeline, encouraging urban ratepayers and rural landowners to join forces to urge their legislators help stop the “California Water Model” – mass movement of groundwater to dry areas for real estate development.
The Texas League of Independent Voters stands center stage in the battle.
“This project will be funded by the rate payers, not by the developers,” said Michele Gangnes, a Lee County attorney and property owner who said her water conservation district is small, but courageous, in fighting against this pipeline project. “And we need to work together to find a way to make development pay for itself.”
Advocates for the pipeline project claim it is necessary for growth and development in the San Antonio area, and moving forward will ensure continuing prosperity in the rapidly growing metropolitan area.
“We have to support our community’s expansive growth and diverse economy while also protecting the Edwards Aquifer,” said SAWS chairman Heriberto Guerra, Jr. “That’s why we need to provide non-Edwards water supplies that are not only sufficient, but abundant for years to come.”
Under state law, private property owners are entitled to sell the water beneath their property, and according to SAWS data, more than 3,400 property owners in Burleson County have already entered agreements for the sale of the water. However, Gangnes maintains that it is the responsibility of Water Conservation Districts to protect those water sources, not only for property owners within their district, but for the good of the State at large.
Although the water is being pumped from beneath Burleson and Lee Counties, the impact on Caldwell County’s water supply is unclear. Local water supplies are already taxed, and development is stalling in several areas of the county while developers struggle with how and where to find water. The Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which will feed the Vista Ridge pipeline, is also the primary water source for Caldwell County.
Construction of the project is slated to be complete, and the pumps turned on, in 2020.