In addition to these, the Region F Water Planning Group made their latest study available in late July. Reading the material made public so far, it is evident we need to adjust to some new water realities, some of which will seem to be 180 degrees from the water discipline we have taken for granted for a lifetime.
First among these realities is that for the first time in my lifetime, San Angelo is in a surplus position on water supply. Most city ratepayers felt justifiably betrayed when, after conserving water, as requested by City Council, they were rewarded with a 23% rate hike. What actually happened was, we did not sell enough water. Most people have not grasped that our connection to the Ivie Pipeline put us in a whole new world. We still anxiously watch the local lake levels and fret about running out of water.
Truth is, as nice as full lakes would be for skiers and fishermen, that which comes out of your tap has not come from local surface water since 1999. We contracted, take or pay, for 15,000 acre feet annually from the Ivie pipeline. When the deal was negotiated and we were using nearly 23,000 Ac/Ft, that seemed a very reasonable number. Since then, a number of factors have combined to drop our usage to a 2004 level of 12,500. Conservation measures from low-flow toilets to drip irrigation to two inch main replacement have reduced a lot of profligate use, and it is hard to argue that we should go back to wasting a precious resource.
The hard economics however, are that last year San Angelo paid for over 70 million gallons of water we never took delivery of or sold, and THAT is the primary cause for the water fund shortfall. Actually, 2000 was the last year we used the 15,000 Ac/Ft we buy. Add to that two unusually cool and wet summers, and water use is plummeting, an item which will be on tomorrow's Council agenda. I suspect our use is lower now than at this point last year. (By the way, temperatures in mid-August are staying in the high 80's, mid-90's range and I am off today due to being rained out with flood watches all over the Concho Valley. Got to be that there Global Warming.)
We know better than to count on a climatic fluctuation being a permanent feature of the water landscape. The long term decision we make will probably cost over $100 million and determine our access to clean water for at least 40 to 50 years. This is a time for careful study. While we no longer live or die on local surface water, the Ivie Pipeline is itself a surface water reservoir supply, subject to curtailment over a lengthy period of drought.
We have read the available studies and have suggestions to make based on them. The city spent over a million on its studies and the Region F work brings to the forefront the possibility of looking outside the city for long term solutions. We could help our smaller neighbors with their problems and in the process sell part of our current surplus. The advantage of the Region F study is its broader scope, looking at everybody from here to Brady as a regional group.
We are accustomed to looking at electric power as a grid system. There is merit in looking at water the same way. Imagine a regional distribution system with multiple sources and customers. I contend that if we do not invite our neighbors to sit with us in these deliberations on water, we will regret not having done so, maybe 10, 20 years down the road, but we will wish we had not missed this chance.
It will require, just for a start, a diplomacy new to us. San Angelo has an unfortunately well deserved reputation as a water bully. Had not Representative Campbell performed a minor miracle, we would be paying twice what we are for a watermaster.
In later posts, I will have more specific suggestions, but I urge in strongest terms that we approach water issues as a regional problem, one where we and our smaller neighbors share similar interests with possibilities for mutually beneficial solutions. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade and set up a stand.