Regional Water Resources Plan for the Edwards Aquifer

Author City of San Antonio and Edwards Underground Water District
Year 1988
Description Insight into the joint planning process between the City of San Antonio and the Edwards Underground Water District for preserving quality and quantity of water in the Edwards Aquifer. Note: This report is included for its historical value and may have been replaced by more recent studies.
Publisher City of San Antonio and Edwards Underground Water District
Location Edwards Aquifer-San Antonio Region
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This plan deals with water resources in the region consisting of UvaldeMedina,, BexarComal and Hays Counties. It presents a policy framework for water resources planning between 1990-2040 and lays out the next steps for implementation. It is the product of a unique joint planning effort by the City of San Antonio and the Edwards Underground Water District.

The precise beginning of any planning process is difficult to identify because many past decisions may have led up to initiation of the current plan. Sometime in the 1970s it became evident that· a water resources plan for San Antonio must be developed within a larger regional context. It also became evident that this would require a regional consensus which did not then exist on the policies and actions that would be needed to implement the plan.

The realization of the need for a regional consensus led to an agreement between the City of San Antonio and the Edwards Underground Water District in November 1983 to develop this plan. The Memorandum of Understanding between these two agencies initiated a joint study of long range water needs and supply alternatives. Every effort was made to insure that the full range of issues was explored and that all interests were represented in the process. The resulting San Antonio Regional Water Resources Study (Figure E-1) was published in April 1986.

The Regional Water Resources Study identified the components that would constitute a regional water resources plan. It assembled data on future water demands and possible alternative sources, and analyzed the impacts of each alternative. It also suggested alternative implementation strategies.

One of the implementation recommendations was the formation of an Implementation Advisory Task Force. The objectives of the IATF were to learn about the issues, to educate others in the region, and to develop a consensus on policy recommendations to be considered by the District and the City. The IATF met throughout the summer and fall of 1986 and submitted its policy recommendations to the Joint Sponsors in December 1986.

At this point, two considerations were uppermost in the minds of the City Council and the Edwards District Board of Directors: (1) to provide adequate regional representation in the development of the plan; and (2) to create a workable decision-making process to ensure consensus on policy. These goals were accomplished by the appointment of a Joint Committee on Water Resources, representing both policymaking bodies. The Committee initially consisted of five members of City Council and five members of the Edwards Board of Directors, co-chaired by the Chairman of the Board and the Mayor of the City.

The Joint Committee met each week through the spring of 1987 to consider policy issues systematically. Discussions continued at these meetings until consensus was reached. Not all of the policy recommendations submitted by the IATF were adopted exactly as submitted, nor were all issues resolved. However, three extremely important elements of a Regional Water Resources Plan resulted from this effort.

First, a Joint Resolution was developed and adopted by the City Council and the Edwards Board of Directors in March 1987. This Resolution described the principles and policies accepted up to that point. The key policy held that the aquifer should not be over-drafted during periods of average rainfall, in order to ensure natural flows at Comal and San Marcos Springs.

The Joint Resolution was intended to inform the Legislature on the region’s efforts and progress in developing a regional plan, and to obtain approval of the program as state policy. It was submitted to the Legislature in the 1987 session, but it was not passed due to the press of time and the emphasis on efforts to pass related legislation on drought management.

Second, the Joint Committee reached consensus on the immediate need for a plan to manage a regional drought emergency. Therefore the Joint Resolution contained a policy statement that the Edwards District would seek legislative authority to develop and implement a Drought Management Plan. An amendment to the Edwards District enabling statute was developed, submitted and approved by the Legislature as House Bill 1942. Since then, the Edwards District has been developing the Drought Management Plan in a separate process from this long range planning program.

Third, the Joint Committee found that its format and procedures facilitated the development of consensus. They fostered the mutual trust and respect necessary to the negotiation and consensus building process. The Committee therefore agreed to continue addressing policy issues in this forum until all issues were negotiated and agreed upon, including both water quality and quantity measures.

Development of the plan was continued throughout the summer of 1987 by a committee of the City Council examining water quality protection issues. The groundwork for this activity was established by the Joint committee in its policy statement number one: one of the ultimate goals of the Edwards aquifer region is to maintain the aquifer’s current high water quality.

With technical assistance from the Edwards Underground Water District, cities in the region will adopt ordinances in 1987 for water quality protection to prevent degradation by contamination of sensitive areas of the aquifer. The ordinances will cover matters including but not limited to: using, producing, transporting or storing hazardous materials by commercial activities; assuring the integrity of sewer lines; protecting caves and sinkholes.

A zoning request for a new shopping mall on the aquifer recharge zone precipitated a controversy over the adequacy of regulations to protect the aquifer’s water quality. The result was a public bearing and the formation of the City Council Committee on the Aquifer. This committee designated four “intervenor” groups to ensure that all views were considered in the course of its work. These represented environmentalist and community-based organizations, and the chambers of commerce and development industries. The committee heard from experts on each issue, along with questions and comments from the intervenors, at weekly  meetings through the summer.

In September 1987, the Council Committee completed its report, The Edwards Aquifer: Perspectives for Local and Regional Action. The central policy statement was an unambiguous commitment: All policy should be based on a principle of no degradation in groundwater quality. Acceptance of this principle led the committee to examine potential sources of contamination along with procedures for dealing with them.

One possible major source of contamination was waste discharges or leaks from sewer lines and septic tanks. The Committee recommended improved specifications for sewer line construction and new controls on septic tanks. Another concern was the storage and transportation of hazardous materials. A major recommendation was to encourage the Texas Water Commission to amend the Edwards Aquifer Rules to regulate more stringently the storage of hazardous materials. Another was to work for legislation authorizing cities to establish transportation routes through their jurisdictions for hazardous materials shipments.

The Committee recommended  a new methodology for review of the Water Pollution Abatement Plans which are required by the Texas Water Commission as a condition for development. The City was urged to amend its zoning ordinance to withhold approval of a zoning change until TWC had previously approved the WPAP.

Still another recommendation was the development of an enhanced mapping process to identify sensitive recharge features such as caves, sinkholes and faults. This information would be useful to both the regulators and those being regulated.

The report was adopted by a unanimous Council and endorsed by the Edwards Board of Directors. Implementation is being carried out according to a specific timetable. These actions have laid to rest the concern that water quality issues had to be considered first, before the quantity issues could be resolved.

The Joint Committee reconvened and modified its structure in October, 1987. The representation of the Edwards District was expanded to include one member of the Board from each of the District’s five counties, along with the Board Chairman as Committee Co-chair. The City Council refreshed the selection of its five appointees, with the Mayor remaining as the other co-chair. The Committee was then expanded to include one representative of each of the three river authorities in the region-the san Antonio, Guadalupe-Blanco, and Nueces in order to increase the representation of downstream user interests. The intervenor process established by the City Council Committee was also instituted to enhance the level of citizen participation.

Since then the Joint Committee has gone through two distinct steps in the current phase of plan development. The first was a re-examination of the assumptions, results and conclusions of the Regional Water Resources Study. In this stage the Committee came to understand the complex interrelationships among recharge to

the aquifer, pumping demands, flows downstream in the Guadalupe and San Antonio River Basins, conservation and resulting demand reductions, wastewater reuse and its effect on water availability, the development of surface water supplies, and the necessity of a reasonable cost recovery mechanism. This resulted in a reaffirmation of the principles adopted in the spring 1987.

The second step has involved a series of policy decisions. The Committee realized that policy on one plan component could not be made in isolation from other issues. The Committee also came to understand that a large number of alternatives were available for selection as policy. A tool in the form of a “planning model” was developed (Table E-1.) A planning model in this sense presents numbers in an accounting framework for analysis of alternatives. The numbers in the model represent possible policy choices and they highlight the implications of choosing different values. Thus the Committee could quickly see the effect of using different numbers for groundwater withdrawals, conservation goals, wastewater reuse and surface water development, under both average and assumed drought conditions. The Committee steadily refined and adjusted its targets so that the impacts were as positive as possible for all categories of users in the region.

In refining the Planning Model, the Joint Committee arrived at policy recommendations on the following plan components:
Quantity of aquifer recharge to be assumed;
Projected future regional water demand;
Withdrawals of aquifer groundwater;
Conservation programs;
Wastewater reuse and downstream flows;
Surface water projects; and
Financing approaches.