Wednesday, October 06, 2010

More on the Hickory Article

There was whole slew of rebuttals from city representatives and other interested parties, suggesting that I misrepresented the facts in regard to the Hickory project and WCID a few weeks ago, so I just want to clarify a few things. The Standard Times will not allow me to give a response, claiming they "don't get into back and forth rebuttals"…
First of all, I never said that WCID used 25,000 acre feet directly from Twin Buttes. I said they use twice as much water as the city of San Angelo. That would include both waste water and water taken directly from the reservoirs. I based that on a claim they made at a hearing in Washington DC that “normal” usage would be 22,000 acre feet but that they would really need 20-30% more than that to make up for evaporation. (And to address Ted’s aside, recycling waste water doesn’t necessarily mean that we would have to drink it - we could use it on golf courses, city parks, and lawns the way many communities in other arid regions do for instance…)
So, those were the numbers I was working with, even though some had suggested to me that the district actually used much more. How the water usage is actually monitored is still unclear to me since TCEQ told me that the city utilities director just tells them over the phone when they are going to release water into the canal and how much. If some one would like to provide some records on this matter that would be great. I’m just trying to get that information to the surface. 20,000 acre feet of water would cover the entire 10,000 acre district in 2 feet of water. My point was, and is, I’m not sure that this is the kind of farming that our arid region can reasonably support in our water starved world, and this is certainly quite a lot more water than most irrigating operations in this area even use. I have been told that wells are also used within the district as well, which would add additional acre feet to that estimation of annual water usage.
Tom Massey, the attorney that has represented the city in their lawsuits, said that there would be no Twin Buttes if not for WCID. I’m not an attorney, I could be wrong, but I do not think that is an accurate statement. The dam was built for flood control. Everything I wrote in my article concerning the conception of this project with the Bureau of Reclamation came from the Bureau of Reclamation’s own documentation. A Department of the Interior’s report states, and I add my emphasis: “The project provides for the integrated operation of Twin Buttes Reservoir with the existing Nasworthy Reservoir to meet the municipal water requirements of San Angelo; and permits irrigation of the project lands, provides flood protection, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits… The Bureau of Reclamation initiated investigations for developing an irrigation plan for using Concho River water in excess of the municipal and industrial needs of the area. The reservoir would yield sufficient water to meet all foreseeable municipal requirements … with irrigation releases made from Twin Buttes Reservoir only when the water in storage exceeds 50,000 acre-feet.” Those are the Bureau of Reclamation’s words, they certainly seem to suggest that the irrigation districts needs are secondary to the city's, and those are the words I used as the basis for that part of my article.
What Massey has said about the Hickory wells only supports the concern I have expressed over the Hickory project. “We have the deepest wells …we’re not going to run out.” I never said we would run out. I did say we may begin to see shallow wells dry up with municipal pumping in the deeper areas. What about the people who live above the aquifer and get their water from shallow wells who can’t afford to drill deeper? San Angelo will be the largest user of Hickory water, yet will not have to abide by the same rules as others who have used the Aquifer for years. The permitting language states that the Conservation Board may review, revise, recall, cancel, reallocate or change, in whole or part, any permits with wells contributing to a cumulative net water-level decline. But the settlement agreement exempts San Angelo from this rule. It also states that San Angelo cannot sell any of the water from the Hickory or from our surface waters, which seems to interfere with the city’s plans to become a regional water supplier. On these issues I see the potential for future litigation.
The availability rates were changed DRASTICALLY by the state as of this year, as our city manager noted in his article. Rather than just supply a newly formulated chain of data that seems to be subject to change whenever the political agendas change, I was interested in giving readers a picture of the history behind the Hickory aquifer project that would illustrate the concerns of the people living above and relying upon the Hickory, the purpose of the Conservation District, and their reaction to being sued by a distant municipality who claimed the Conservation District had no right to regulate them. All of the information I supplied in that regard came directly from the Hickory Underground Water Conservation District’s documents.
As for the cost of the Hickory project I did say that the 120 million was to build the pipeline, and that was a mistake. But, Hutch Musallam of Carollo Engineers, the firm working with the city on the project stated in the Standard Times: “The first phase is estimated to cost $120 million...” That statement does seem to imply that there will be additional funds needed to complete the project. And not one of the dissenters has addressed how much it would cost to maintain this project, to pump, treat, and monitor the radioactive water.
The irrigation district has falsely stated on their web-sight that I am a member of the Concho River Conservancy Group, an alliance suing the city, which I have NEVER been involved in. If I supported that effort, you can be sure I would have spoken out about it long ago. I think that issue could, and should, be resolved out of court. If not, as I understand it, the city could be spending many more millions (of our tax dollars) defending themselves in the Supreme Court. I do not believe ANYONE should irrigate farmland from our rivers. The resources are too scarce. I have some ideas on a solution that I think would be agreeable to all parties in that situation, if only both sides would be willing to listen and consider that a change is due. Now is the time for co-operation. More on that later.
I live on the Concho River down stream from San Angelo. I have seen it reduced to hot puddles of mud. I was told by members of the Conservancy group that the WCID had refused to release the names of the members in their irrigation district or provide reliable information regarding their water usage. I did attempt to confirm that via e-mail on 3 occasions and never received a response. Perhaps I should have made additional efforts, but I am not a professional journalist, I am a mother of four, and considered instead to write my article based information that could be obtained through documents available to any one online, day or night, from the Bureau of Reclamation, The Hickory Underground Water Conservation District, the WCID’s web-sight, the City of San Angelo, public record related to House Resolution 4910, and the Standard Times.
I think there are valid concerns that a conflict of interest could exist between the WCID and members of the city staff. A release of the names of the farmers in this irrigation district and records of the amounts of water that each member has used from Twin Buttes and the city treatment plant for the past 10 years should clear all that up.
My interest in this subject is a matter of just governance, fiscal responsibility, and the environmental integrity of our riparian area. I am firm believer in Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic, which states that: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." Whether we get our water from the tap, a well, a river, or a rooftop, we will all have to begin thinking and acting holistically, and partner together to conserve and protect this precious resource.


  1. This post is taken from my comments at SAST

    The importance of managing our water goes without saying and articles like this wouldn’t be in the forefront of the news cycle if it wasn’t for the pending voter approval of the 1/2 cent sales tax revision this November.

    I come to the debate via SAST 28 July 2010 article Viewpoints: Budget proposal up for discussion

    Towards the bottom of this article you find a list of “ELIMINATED SERVICES” and “REDUCED SERVICES”; services cut due to lack of funds. In the comments of this article I pointed out one area where my neighbors, others, and I have noticed an area of waste and abuse i.e. City vehicles used for personal business: home visits, shopping, lunch runs, banking and so on.

    Objections to my stance were countered, explanations were given, excuses were made and the PIO chimes in and says “City Management is looking into this.”

    But it’s business-as-usual, during this morning’s errand run I noticed the empty Public Works vehicle # 11462 sitting in the crowded Franco’s Café parking lot, 9:30am, and a couple weeks ago it was Utility Maintenance vehicle # 11896 running while the driver did his walk-up banking at SASFCU, notwithstanding the lunch convergence at Whataburger.

    Here’s my point; reining in this waste of gas, reducing turn-around vehicle maintenance, properly managing employee’s time would cover the fees for a few of the “REDUCED SERVICES” or “ELIMINATED SERVICES”;

    Senior Services — Eliminate part-time recreation asst. position$-8,387
    Close Southside nutrition$-5,000
    Youth Council$-5,000

    This is just an example, I offer it to point out how little is needed to restore these services: put the savings where it would do the best good.

    Whether it’s my assertion or Alli Devereaux or comments by other readers, the ability of the City to be fiscally conservative with our assets does not inspire confidence.

    I would like to see our money well spent. I would like to see safeguards that scrutinize internal controls on spending, whether it’s a gasoline budget for a fleet of vehicles or expenditures to repair deteriorated pipes resulting in water-main breaks or property speculations on the river. If those safeguards are there now they need some fine-tuning.

    I don’t know, maybe an independent audit of these areas, and others, would give the voters confidence that lifting the sunset is a good thing.

  2. Allie, I'm a bit older than you. Tom Massey is probably correct, Twin Buttes could not have been built on Bu Rec money without WCID. Nominal reason was flood control, but...

    Why did we have to fight many years to get the cut-off wall done and stop leakage? They dug too deep and got into alluvial gravel base, about as porous as cheesecloth. The racetrack oval that used to be east of the dam had to give up, the track was literally "floating". You could walk the "dry" side of the dam and loose a boot in the mud.

    The notion that our rights to Hickory are "fully adjudicated" is bogus. The settlement reached in '95 has held because we have not actually used our rights. HUWCD was formed to litigate against San Angelo. They have not dissolved, they are "keeping their powder dry". As soon as we start drawing water and lower the aquifer level, the first farmer with a dry well gives HUWCD a new cause of action, new standing in court, actual damages to adjudicate. Of course by this time we will already be $150 million invested, more to come, in a pipeline we may never get much use of.

    In my spare time, I'm a gambler, love blackjack and football, close to even odds. This ain't even close, we build it, they will sue, and frankly, I don't blame them.

    We need to confer with, work with, become partners with the regional water users. Imagine a water grid similar to electric power. San Angelo needs to become a water partner, not a water bully or water litigant.

  3. I am very interested in this topic since I lived most of my life in El Paso, TX---were water is as precious as gold. If San Angelo were really serious about water conservation, why are home lots so large? Why isn't there an even/odd watering plan, incentives for xeriscaping, new home building codes with mandated reduced turf area, incentive for water capture systems, gray water systems for golf courses and water parks. El Paso has a desalination plant and has made great strides in conservation and optimization of supply. We should learn from them.
    As far as farming, there are innovative methods of indoor recirculating fish farms with hydroponic features for vegetables. With the brackish water, many fish species would do well. If only fish farming had the political lobby that beef, pork and lamb have, we would be eating one of the cheapest, most high quality protein with very little land use.
    It does seem that the neglect of infrastructure is the most expensive mistake the city has made and until that is fixed,all of the other issues will be a waste of time and money if busted pipes allow all our water to escape. I commend you Allie for your diligent research and Jim for your constant "ankle biting". (I mean that in a very postive way)
    Unless a city has engaged citizens, it becomes wasteful and corrupt. We all need to step up and demand accountability.

  4. I have watched this for years. It is true the canal did not run water for a long time, but the last couple of years water has flowed. I was shocked when water was released this past summer. We will never have water storage when we continue this trend.

    You are right in assuming there is a big conflict of interest with city staff who has land that benefits from the use of this water.

    The troubling thing to me is that most citizens have no idea that this much water is released unless they drive over the canal. At least this is starting to be out in the open now, not that that will do any good, but we will see.