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LEARN more about the San Antonio River Authority at 3601 S. Congress off E. Alpine Penn Field under the water tower check our site for monthly calendar Ruin Ruin it it International Headquarters Come Visit us for LUNCH! In addition to our organic coffee, pizzas, empanadas, pastries and pies, we now prepare made to order sandwiches, salads, and even black bean gazpacho. Supporting The Texas Observer with every referral and transaction. You Know Me \(with a few degrees of Get real estate help from someone you know. Call me today! Larry Hurlbert, Realtor 512.431.5370 [email protected] The Kinney Company, Real Estate Services, Austin, TX The LCRA deals with this duality to the best of its abilities. “I don’t want to defend any of these river authorities, but using the LCRA as a poster child is a bit unfair. They do a better job managing the water than most,” admits water activist Rick Lowerre. “I’m generally a fan of the LCRA, especially under new general manager Tom Mason [see “Full Stream Ahead,” Feb 7, 2008], says Andrew Sansom of Texas Water Matters. “Their size allows them to invest in some of the state’s top scientists and they’ve done fairly progressive work.” The LCRA claims its coal-fired plants, which account for 50 percent of its total energy production, are among the world’s most efficient in terms of both water consumed and emissions released. The primary problem, says Lowerre, is a lack of leadership from within the capital. In 1997, the Legislature divided the state into 16 water-planning regions, which submit regional water plans to the Texas Water Development Board. The regional process resulted in the creation of what Lowerre calls “little fiefdoms.” Each region clamored to maximize the water it controls to support more growth and reap more profits. River authorities support themselves through the sale of water and electricity created using water. For them, a growing population means more water and electricity customers, and therefore these authorities profit from the strain placed on the water resource they’re supposed to protect. The current system gives river authorities little incentive to push for more sustainable growth, or to call for greater water conservation. “The governor and TCEQ decided the state should get out of the water management business and handed the power over to the river authorities,” says Lowerre. The river authoritiesbeholden to governor-appointed board members who often have business interestsclaim the state directs them to sell water to anyone in need. “We don’t pick winners and losers in a game of who gets water,” says Cullick, the LCRA spokesperson. “We meet’ growth as it occurs.” If that includes sprawling developments, impractical agriculture, and water-hungry power plants, so be it. SAN ANTONIO IS WHERE water regulation began past the Alamo and down to the wide riverwalk, over arching stone bridges to quaint shops and Mexican restaurants. The agency that manages the water source, the San Antonio River Authority, holds a reputation as one of the most astute river stewards in the state. In the 1980s, the authority sued the city for dumping barely treated effluent into the San Antonio River. “Our board members would show up to meetings with jars of sludge,” says General Manager Suzanne Scott. In 2007, the authority helped pass groundbreaking environmental legislation. The bill, Senate Bill 3, identifies the flows required in rivers and streams to maintain a healthy ecology, as well as the amount of freshwater needed by bays and estuaries. Today the San Antonio Authority’s environmental science department is assisting the enactment of the law. The San Antonio agency differs from other Texas river authorities for two reasons. First, it holds the rights to less than 1,000 acre-feet of water, compared with the LCRA’s more than 1 million. This means the San Antonio authority has no water to sell and doesn’t use the river’s water to generate electricity. Scott says the authority is trying to procure more water rights from farmers so it can leave more water in the river and have a healthier flow. Second, the board of directors is locally elected from the four counties through which the San Antonio River flows. That gives the agency the political jurisdiction to collect property taxes \(on average, $23 per property interest. “It makes our board directly accountable to the public,” says Scott. “We have to take a very holistic approach. Some of our constituents are residents, and others are business people.” According to Lowerre, lack of accountability is a primary reason for the current turmoil in the agencies entrusted to manage the state’s surface water. Most Texans have almost no say in how publicly owned water is managed, and that leaves managing our most precious resource in the hands of a powerful few. Ca Ian Dille is a freelance journalist based in Austin. WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG