Water was on the city council agenda again last Tuesday. We have been covering the local water issues and made information available here since we started about 5 years ago. Water has been an issue for San Angelo and the surrounding area from the beginning. Fort Concho was built at its present location because of the junction of the various Concho River junctions. San Angelo became the county seat of Tom Green county because water, in the form of a flood, destroyed Ben Ficklin, the former county seat. Water gave San Angelo its start. San Angelo has needed a water strategy from the start.
The Standard times gave a pretty good history of the City's long term water strategy back in 2008 but a few additional points need to be made. First, we need to remember how all this is going to get paid for. In 2001, an increase to the water rate lasting 25 years was added to pay for 4 projects with an estimated total of $156 million. It has already paid for 2” main replacement, treatment plant upgrades, and the Twin Buttes gate repairs, with roughly $116 million remaining to pay for developing a long term water supply. In addition, $20 million from the last ½ cent sales tax was promised to aid development of a long term water source. The sales tax money has paid for most of the testing and development carried out so far. There have been attempts to get some grants and other aid, but the reality is that most of this project is going to be paid for by sales tax money and our water bill. There really aren't a lot of choices. This project is far enough along that we probably should take a good look at how we are using our 4B sales tax money and put more of it into developing water sources instead of projects that are much less critical to the health and survival of our community. We need to back to the voters and ask them if they want us to extend the sales tax to help complete this project. Spend more of the sales tax money on fundamentals.
The other point we need to keep in mind is that water is a regional problem. San Angelo's economy is very dependent on the health of the surrounding economies. Whether it's agriculture, oil, ASU, Goodfellow, or just retail sales, most of our trade is local. If the Eden, El Dorado, or Ozona economies have the sniffles, San Angelo's economy will catch a cold. If we are serious about having a healthy economy, we need to help our neighbors keep their economies healthy, and water is a key factor in the economic health of the region. More than that, San Angelo needs to be a good regional neighbor. Not that long ago, San Angelo was seen as a water bully. Some questionable tactics were used to try and get water rights. This led to expensive law suits, and the introduction of a water master to the area. The policy at that time amounted to “water for San Angelo, no matter what happens to anyone else.” We have outgrown that policy, but the bad memories linger on.
There are even more fundamental reasons to make our water system part of a regional solution. First, from a purely economic perspective, the cost per gallon of water can go down. Our current treatment plant can handle 2 to 3 times our current demand. Spread the fixed costs of a system to more customers, and the cost per customer goes down. There could be other savings because of volume buying and economies of scale. Additionally, a regional system can also increase the long term stability and reliability of the entire water system. We are already getting most of our water from O. H. Ivie, which is almost 50 miles away. The Hickory well field will require at least 60 miles of pipe. Our local lakes would have trouble supplying us with the roughly 15,000 acre feet we currently use each year. In 50 years, we will probably need double that amount of water, which will be close to the capacity of all the water sources we are currently developing. Our neighbors will be in the same situation. If we are part of a regional solution that has access to the water within at least 100 miles, all of us, including our neighbors, should still be in good shape.
It's good to see city government doing some long term thinking about something as important as water. More needs to be done, and they need to expand that into regional thinking.