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LCRA Directors give unanimous

Tuesday, January 30, 2001 by

Approval for San Antonio water deal

Deal includes $200 million for Colorado River Basin improvements

The Lower Colorado River Authority’s multi-million dollar “sell water to save water” deal with the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) won tentative approval from the LCRA board on Monday afternoon, paving the way for a one-of-a-kind agreement that will impact two major water basins for the next 80 years.

Over the next eight months, LCRA and SAWS will hammer out a definitive legal agreement between the two water authorities. On Monday, the LCRA board gave its approval to a memorandum of agreement that will put the process in motion. SAWS signed off on the deal on Friday, along with an agreement with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. LCRA General Manager Joe Beal called the deal unprecedented.

“What we’re going to be considering today, I believe, is the most significant water development activity that this organization has undertaken since the original dams that form the Highland Lakes were first approved on August 17 in 1936,” Beal told the LCRA board on Monday morning.

Under the deal, LCRA would sell up to 150,000 acre-feet per year to SAWS. That’s a little more than 48 million gallons of water per year being sent to San Antonio. The proceeds from the water sale would provide more than $200 million in long-term improvements to the Colorado River basin, providing better conservation measures for the region’s current water supply. A pipeline from Matagorda County up to San Antonio to transport the water will be considered under a separate agreement.

Water deals are ripe for conflict because of the competing interests of user groups, Beal said. Only a year ago, he said, the LCRA/SAWS water deal would have been impossible. On one end of the Colorado River, recreational users of the Highland Lakes wanted to keep water levels high. On the other end, rice farmers in Matagorda and Wharton counties were seeing their crops dry up. Beyond that, cities like Llano, Lampasas, Goldthwaite and Fredricksburg were seeing water prices so high that the purchase and infrastructure for long-term water supplies appeared impossible.

That makes the LCRA/SAWS deal all the more significant, Beal said. Water supply would be improved for all users of the Colorado basin. When the LCRA board unanimously approved the deal, Board Chair Pamela Akins said it would ensure the water supply of the Colorado basin and “show that two regions can work together toward a mutual deal.”

The deal will require some legislative exceptions and environmental compromises. On the legislative side, state law must be amended so the LCRA can sell water outside its basin. That legislation will include a promise that no water will be diverted from the Highland Lakes and no groundwater will be sold to San Antonio. David Cummings, district coordinator for Sen. Troy Frasier, was in the audience and said Frasier would consider carrying the legislation. Frasier represents portions of the LCRA basin.

In an hour-long presentation, Paul Thornhill, executive manager of the water resources division, outlined the highlights and phases of a 30-page memorandum representing 140 hours of negotiations between the two water authorities. Under the agreement, the water sale would be divided into four phases: Legislative/Definitive Contract, Study, Reservation, and Purchase. The contract would have a 50-year term with a 30-year extension. It would also commit to weaning San Antonio off Austin water in the last decade of the contract.

Thornhill stressed the agreement is structured so that no water would be transported to San Antonio before the capital improvement projects are completed in the Colorado basin.

Details of the Deal

Following are the various phases of the contract in greater detail:

• Legislative/Definitive Contract Period – This is a seven-month period to obtain the legislation necessary to sign the contract. It would also be used to draft the definitive contract. Thornhill said the majority of the work on the contract—probably 90 to 95 percent of it—has already been completed. During this phase, no money will change hands and no penalty will be imposed on either side if the proposed legislation does not pass.

• Study Period – This phase will be used to determine the project components, cost and schedule, as well as initiating the permit process. The study period could take up to seven years, more or less, Thornhill said. During this period, SAWS would pay a minimum of $1 million per year in the form of a $500,000 option fee paid on the first day of each year and at least $500,000 in study costs. SAWS can cancel at any time during the study period. If SAWS cancels, LCRA must refund half the study cost, but would keep all the option fees.

Either or both water authorities could decide to cancel at the end of the study period. Under this condition, LCRA would also refund half the study costs. LCRA also agrees not to sell the committed water supply to any other entity. This period would also include an extensive environmental assessment to determine the impact upon estuaries and Matagorda Bay. • Reservation Period – On the first day of this phase—probably sometime in 2008—SAWS will provide an upfront payment of $24.5 million to start Colorado basin improvement projects. SAWS agrees to commit to reserve between 50,000 acre/feet and 150,000 acre/feet per year, plus an amortized surcharge across 10 years to cover the cost of the Colorado basin projects. The fees will be divided into 75 percent for project costs and 25 percent for stored water revenue. SAWS can choose to release water without penalty. The surcharge will be reduced to zero once the cost of the regional projects is covered.

• Purchase Period – At this point, SAWS can purchase all or a portion of the water it has reserved. It must pay for up to 85 percent of the water it has reserved. Transmission lines between LCRA and SAWS will be completed. Those lines will be paid for by SAWS and owned by LCRA. The two authorities will own the right-of-way jointly. At the end of the contract, easements would be transferred to SAWS. Facilities will be owned by LCRA.

During the final decade, SAWS will be weaned from the Colorado basin water supply. If they continue to use the water, they must pay five times the then-current rate. LCRA spokesman Robert Cullick said the deal would require an extensive communications campaign to educate both sides of the table. That's only natural, he said, given that the two authorities are about to build an 80-year relationship.

City seeking Solutions

To 'heat island' problem

Goodman, Alvarez take the lead

Simple measures—light-colored roofs, minimized concrete and additional tree canopy—can actually cool off the urban core of a city where temperatures rise up to 9 degrees higher than in the surrounding suburbs.

Two Austin City Council members, Raul Alvarez and Jackie Goodman, are supporting measures to minimize the “heat island” effect on downtown Austin. The great abundance of heat-retaining concrete and asphalt cause the rise in temperature. That heat is released at night, often making a city’s urban core much hotter than surrounding areas. It also exacerbates the chemical reactions that lead to increased ozone creation.

Cities such as Miami have established “Cool Communities” programs to cool down their city centers and minimize ozone creation. Lighter roofs and more trees can literally cool down city buildings. At a workshop on Saturday, civic leaders and city employees reviewed some of the concepts.

After spending much of the day reviewing the concepts, workshop participants broke into small groups to recommend policies and concepts they thought would work for Austin. Those ideas included retrofitting buildings in public spaces with lighter roofs, establishing a 50 percent canopy goal for city parking lots, and educating homeowners on the benefits of reduced energy costs from the use of lighter colored roofs.

“I think what impresses me most is that there’s actually already significant buy-in to these ideas,” said Austin Neighborhoods Council President Jim Walker. “We already know two council members endorse this and that some of these recommendations will actually evolve into policy changes.”

Nancy Masterson, who ran Miami’s Cool Communities program and now has retired to Seguin, presented an overview of the benefits from the South Florida program. She talked about turning hard science into useful public policy, but admits that the intangibles of hydrocarbons don’t often go over well when it comes to selling public officials on the Cool Communities concept.

What sold Miami-Dade County commissioners was the fact that one additional tree planted on each residential lot in the right spot would ultimately yield $8 million a year in saved energy costs.

“That’s something that they can sell,” Masterson said.

It also led to revisions in the landscape ordinance requiring one additional tree on each residential lot, the majority of them in the solar impact zone. Masterson also stressed the need to implement the new shade tree cover rules in established neighborhoods, as well as areas of new construction. An effort in a blue-collar neighborhood in South Miami to plant trees led to new buy-in for both environmental measures and neighborhood involvement.

Jeffrey Luvall, who heads the urban heat island project for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Alabama, also spoke to the group. Luvall is an urban forester who tracks heat patterns recorded by NASA’s remote heat sensors. He showed the group a postcard of Atlanta that said “Atlanta is Sizzlin” and quipped that Atlanta’s core was so hot from buildings retaining heat that it led to a $600 million loss in federal highway funds because the city could not meet EPA’s air quality standards. The heat pocket also means that downtown Atlanta actually creates its own weather conditions, significantly altering rain patterns.

Luvall showed aerial maps of Austin—which he had not yet analyzed—as well as aerial maps of Houston. He also showed charts that clearly tied rises in temperature across the city to increased roof space.

Alvarez said he was committed to moving the Cool Communities concepts forward after seeing the benefits that it could bring to a city’s urban core. “We’re losing a lot of trees to drought, storms and construction, and I think we need to look at the impact that is having in terms of the heat effect,” Alvarez said. “We need to look at the overall picture and work to counteract the problem."

Alvarez’ expectation is that Saturday’s discussion will ultimately turn into programs and ordinances that the city can implement. He said homes, commercial space and public space should all be targeted under the initiative to have the maximum effect for the city.

For the record, an urban ecological analysis shows that Austin has a canopy cover of 34 percent citywide, against a recommended 40 percent. Area suburbs are at 44 percent canopy cover, against a recommended 50 percent. And downtown Austin has 10 percent canopy, well below the 15 percent recommended cover. Masterson estimated the city lost millions in air quality costs, adding that stormwater runoff could also be decreased by greater canopy cover.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Chris Noack, president of the Austin chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), has written to Mayor Kirk Watson, urging him (and presumably the rest of the City Council) to allow the design process on City Hall to continue. Local architects were chagrined when UT rejected a design concept from the prominent architectural firm the school had hired. They want to make sure the city does not do the same . . . Edging closer . . . Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association, which has been in “meet and confer” talks with attorneys and City Council members for months, says his organization is very close to agreement on a new contract with the city . . . Fire!. . The city’s Watershed Protection Department is planning a “prescribed burn” on one tract of water quality lands in southwest Travis County. The effort is planned for a day in February . . . Oops, we forgot . . . Three members of the Urban Transportation Commission plan to join the Stratus advisory commission. They are Carl Tepper, Tommy Eden and Patrick Goetz.

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