Short-term water, long-term consequences for Hill Country

The Vista Ridge water project in San Antonio threatens to follow a dangerous precedent: draining water from one region to another in a way that will only increase exurban sprawl in the Hill Country. If this solution seems familiar it should: It’s the California model that has led to that state having one year of water left.

The Vista Ridge pipeline is a multibillion-dollar project to pipe 50,000 acre feet of water a year, 142 miles across five counties. That is hugely expensive infrastructure, especially considering there is no assurance about how reliable this groundwater supply will be for the long haul. Aquifers are not unlimited resources.

This is just one of many proposals to pump and pipe water from the Carrizo Wilcox aquifer. It’s one thing to assess the impact of a single project over the next decade or so, but groundwater runs freely beneath several counties and several groundwater districts with differing management plans. We don’t have the science needed to demonstrate the cumulative effect of developing this much water long-term. Unless we manage groundwater withdrawals in a way that takes no more than nature can replenish, we will deplete the resource. Then what?

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