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Adler releases plan to solve Austin water crisis

Thursday, September 25, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Austin mayoral candidate Steve Adler, who has already issued extensive position papers on affordability and education, got his feet wet Wednesday with a new plan to deal with Austin’s water crisis. He issued an “agenda paper” that primarily opposes buying and shipping new water from elsewhere, preferring to emphasize conservation, reuse and a restructuring of the city’s water utility.

In his eight-page plan, Adler proposes to push for “innovative and aggressive” conservation measures, increased water reuse programs, decentralized water management models and changes to the Austin Water Utility’s business model to make it financially sound and more sustainable.

“The protection and sustainability of clean water is crucial to our future,” Adler said Wednesday in a news release. “Simply put, without water we do not survive. Acquiring new water supplies would be very expensive, so we must do all we can to protect the water we already have.”

Other candidates in the mayor’s race, including Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole, questioned if Adler’s environmental credentials were sufficient for him to be proposing a water plan. They have both criticized Adler, an attorney who primarily represents landowners, for his past involvement with clients who opposed the SOS Ordinance and profited from development over the Edwards Aquifer.

In expounding on his plan, Adler said much of what he is proposing is contained in the Water Resource Planning Task Force report released in July. He said he would use the report to develop and implement a “comprehensive and integrated water resource management plan” for Austin, and work to develop “effective responses” to Central Texas’ historic drought.

Adler added that he would also work to amend city ordinances dealing with water reuse and consult with Austin’s high-tech sector to find innovative ways for consumers to monitor and conserve their water use.

Most specifically, Adler said he would change the way the Austin Water Utility operates.

“We must avoid spending a billion dollars on a large capital expense to buy water supply in Lee and Bastrop Counties (and an associated conveyance system to bring the water here),” Adler wrote. “The current Council has made bad capital choices in the past that have led to unnecessary increases in our utility bills, such as the $2.2 billion “wood burning” biomass energy plant contract and Water Treatment Plant 4, both of which provide capacity we do not need. We must think long-term and in new ways, and we must do that now.”

Adler’s plan relies heavily on conservation and reuse to solve the city’s coming water shortage, but it does not answer the question of how the Austin Water Utility will deal with its fixed and rising costs in the face of falling revenues, mainly due to conservation by its customers.

Matt Parkerson, campaign manager for Martinez, said Adler could not be trusted to deal with the city’s water problems.

“Trusting Steve Adler with Austin’s water policy is like trusting Exxon’s CEO to lead the EPA,” Parkerson said in an email. “Adler is a special-interest lawyer who, according to independent news reports, has personally profited by developing over the Edwards Aquifer and helping corporate polluter clients evade Austin’s environmental regulations.”

Cole campaign aide Genevieve Van Cleve said Adler’s record doesn’t compare to Cole’s.

“Given that Adler has no experience at City Hall and hasn’t served on any of the boards or commissions that have underscored Austin’s ascendency onto every ‘best of’ list in the country, it makes sense that he and his consultant team have crafted a variety of plans that seek to demonstrate that he has a basic understanding of the challenges that face the city,” she said. “Adler’s plans are not a suitable substitute for Sheryl’s ability to balance the needs of the economy with the values of of tolerance, creativity, environmental stewardship and justice.”


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