Sunday, October 23, 2005

Regional Water Solutions: Part II

San Angelo has finished another fiscal year in the water department. We came close, but still had a slight deficit. As I pointed out in an earlier piece on this topic, We are victims of our own successful conservation measures. From the 22,000 acre feet we used about the time the Ivie Pipeline went online, we are now at 12,500. The city estimates 13,000 as our break-even point, with water sales above that putting money into the water fund. We pay for 15,000 acre feet from Ivie, use it or lose it. We will start pumping the difference between use and that 15,000 figure into O C Fisher, at least getting recreational value if nothing else. The idea is to actually move that balance due water during the winter months when evaporation loss will be lowest. It still won't be gallons sold, so it will not help financially.
We also now have the water studies the city commissioned in hand. These studies examined the feasibility of different long term water sources and were to look ahead 50 years and more. We also have the most recent State commissioned Region F Water Planning Group study. We have available right now a wealth of information and solid fact far beyond anything we have ever had. San Angelo will be digesting this material and making decisions that will determine our water availibilty, cost, and quality down to our grandchildrens' time. It is likely the choices we make in the next year or so will eventually cost between one and two hundred million dollars. Best we make wise decisions now, at that price a “do-over” if we flub it would be terribly expensive.
The Stephens study for the city and the Region F report are sufficient to convince me that Hickory Aquifer will never be a viable option, at least with current technology. If in the future we are blessed with an affordable product like “Nukeaway” that could change, but nothing of the sort is on the horizon. It can be argued that our current regulatory stance on allowable radionucleotides is phobic beyond reason, in fact I would argue just that. In this case facts are irrelevant, the political reality is that the regulatory view of radiological contamination is more likely to become even more severe than to recede. The Region 4 report is available at , see chapter 4 for Hickory Aquifer info. The Hickory users group has its site at and has a lot of useful info as well as their point of view concerning the as yet unused contract San Angelo has there. The Stephens study is available from the city, should be on the web soon, but I do not have a url for that if it is up now.
I will not make the whole case here, but let me put it this way: if someone comes to you touting a pipeline to Hickory water for San Angelo, Smile reassuringly, tuck your thumb over your wallet, and slowly back away. To cut to the chase, after 20 pages of examining options for small water districts in the Hickory Aquifer area, the Region 4 recommendation, at least under temporary waiver, BOTTLED WATER!
The Region F report identifies nine water utilities affected by radionuclides, ranging in size from Brady to the like of Lohn WSC, Melvin and subdivisions most of us would have trouble finding on a map. Their problem is they are too small to afford the infrastructure needed to comply. I believe it is quite possible that looked at regionally, their problem can become part of San Angelo's solution, if we are willing to explore a regional water plan. San Angelo can and of necessity, will afford supply and treatment hardware to provide clean water in excess of our needs. If we can interest these smaller communities east of us in a supply contract, we can then move to looking at cost effective distribution. This might initially involve trucking potable water to the “bottled water” distribution points recommended in the Region F study. Ideally, our long view would be a piped water system.
I have heard the suggestion from proponents of the Hickory supply suggest we could save construction costs by running a line from the Hickory supply to the Ivie line. They are dreaming, no hallucinating. This was forseen when the Ivie users group was formed, and that contract allows any single partner veto power over any partner's use of the line to transport any water other than Ivie. That clause was put in specifically addressing our contract for Hickory water. There is not a prayer that Midland is suddenly going to say, “Aw heck yeah, what's a little radiation between friends? Y'all go right ahead and mix your radioactive water in with ours, our voters won't mind a bit.”
On the other hand, if we are branching off Ivie to sell some of our surplus to these smaller communities, that objection would vanish. It is possible that a distribution arrangement could be agreed to with the Millersview/Doole water utility. When Millersview district completes its 3MGD treatment plant, they intend to abandon their use of Hickory wells. If agreement could be reached, incorporating that 50 mile reach of existing piping into a regional system would save everyone involved tons of money long term.
Remember, we are trying to plan for the next two generations. If we can get acceptance of mutually beneficial agreements and show that we will not use our size to bully about our smaller partners it is quite conceivable San Angelo could become the supplier and processor of clean water for a large multi county area, saving small communities money by being able utilize economies of scale unavailable to a tiny population. Grape Creek, Mertzon, MUD's such as Quail Valley might find it advantageous to join in.
At the very least, as we stand at a historic crossroad of water policy, we owe it to ourselves to seriously explore this possibility. The most important thing we will have to do is make a cooperative rather than combative approach. The mess we are just untangling ourselves from over water rights holders and the watermaster cannot be repeated. We need a new face and a new voice for water policy. I do not dispute Stephen Brown's contribution to San Angelo, Twin Buttes is to a big extent his baby. Still, no one who has argued water rights with him will mistake the man for a diplomat. This negotiation, if we decide to pursue it, will require a diplomat, not a hammer.

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