How San Antonio uses its water to influence Kendall County development

 Two years have passed since Kendall County Water Control and Improvement District (WCID) No. 3 was introduced in Senate Bill (SB) 914, by Sen. Donna Campbell. 

 As written, 1,055 acres were to be developed and more than 2,000 homes built, but it had no source for a water supply. 

Boerne City Council considered consenting to creation of the district in early 2019 – now WCID No. 3 and 3A – but members voted unanimously to table the matter indefinitely. 

However, a door was left open by noting that if negotiations could yield a proposed development agreement favorable to the Boerne community, the city council may consider the agenda item then. 

Underlying this action were the petitions for the districts – the largest addressed only 332 acres in the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) of the city – and both were rejected as “legally insufficient.” 

 Without addressing the total area of the district as originally created, the city could not regulate the impact on more than 600 acres that would be excluded from a development agreement. 

However, there’s much more to the story and it includes House Bill (HB) 1806 by Rep. Tracy King and its twin in the Senate – Senate Bill 1170 by Sen. Donna Campbell. 

 Because the City of Boerne water and wastewater capacity was already dedicated to present and future planned development, the developer of WCID No. 3 actively sought water, but no wastewater service, from the City of San Antonio’s water utility – San Antonio Water System (SAWS). 

SAWS offered a contract to sell a share of its take of surface water from Canyon Reservoir, which is available from the pipeline of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) and groundwater from the Edwards Aquifer as a backup. 

SAWS currently provides water service to very small areas of Kendall County, but can’t include water pumped from the Edwards Aquifer because to do so is presently illegal. 

Ostensibly, these bills will give the utility more flexibility to use existing resources available to SAWS and the existing SAWS infrastructure – existing pipelines and sources of water from Canyon Reservoir and Edwards Aquifer, to lower costs to existing customers. 

The reality is that it would conveniently solve the water supply problem for WCID No. 3 and add a new customer to the SAWS rate-paying base. 

In truth, SAWS infrastructure does not reach this property and connecting to it would require another section of pipeline to be built by the developer. 

Changing the existing law – the Edwards Aquifer Act of 1993 – would allow Edwards Aquifer water into Kendall County beyond the existing SAWS infrastructure to further growth. 

Here, members of the Texas Legislature can be seen adversely tinkering with a law written to protect the Edwards Aquifer, the source of drinking water for millions of people and the source of the spring flow required to sustain life and industry all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. 

For Kendall County, this is being done for the benefit of one single developer. 

Furthermore, importing SAWS water will eliminate local options that could be provided by local government through negotiation and compromise. 

An example of compromise would be for the developer to agree to build the required wastewater treatment plant in WCID No. 3 and use that water for outdoor needs like lawns, which would reduce peak demand, rather than use drinking water. 

If these bills are passed San Antonio will be empowered to expand its water footprint onto a major development in the ETJ of Boerne, leaving the city government unable to apply its development management approach in the area. 

As the developer has agreed to take SAWS water, properties in WCID No. 3 would then follow San Antonio drought rules rather than those appropriate for Boerne or Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District (GCD). 

Finally, both the Cow Creek GCD and Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) were created by the Texas Legislature by Section 59, Article XVI of the Texas Constitution as Conservation and Reclamation Districts with specified and defined geographic boundaries. 

Thus, importing water from one Groundwater Conservation District into another’s boundaries fundamentally alters and undermines the State’s preferred method of groundwater management. 

That’s how San Antonio uses its water to influence development in Kendall County. 

– Milan Michalec is Pct. 2 director, and Board President of the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District of Kendall County. 

This article was featured in the Opinion Column of The Boerne Star, accessible here.