On Oct. 4 UTSA’s Water Institute of Texas (WIT) held its first water symposium, an all-day event focusing on the two main issues of long term water availability and the water regulatory environment. The event gathered experts from across the nation to come up and discuss possible solutions to these issues. The symposium consisted of two main keynote speakers and panels to focus on the main issues at hand.
The first keynote speaker was Dr. Soroosh Sorooshian from the University of California- Irvine, an expert in hydrometeorology, the study of the changes of state water in the atmosphere, to address the problems and challenges with water availability.
The panel that followed Dr. Soroosh Sorooshian included Dr. David Maidment, the
Hussein M. Alharthy Centennial Chair in Civil Engineering at UT Austin; Dr. Dan Hardin, the Interim Deputy Executive Administrator for Water Resources Planning and Information for Texas Water Development Board; and Dr. Alan Dutton, the Chair of the Department of Geological Sciences at UTSA.
The panel focused on the issues of population growth in San Antonio and South Texas, which have lead to high water demands. The question of enough water to sustain such a population growth comes into play. Overall the panel went into detail about the possible outcomes of water availability.
The second keynote speaker was Dr. Robert Gulley, executive director of the Habitat Conservation Program at the Edwards Aquifer Authority, who discussed the challenges and problems of the issue of water regulatory environment for the Edwards Aquifer.
Following Dr. Robert Gulley’s speech was the second panel of the day which included Mr. Robert Puente, President/CEO of San Antonio Water System (SAWS); Mrs. Suzanne Scott, the General Manager of the San Antonio River Authority (SARA); and Dr. Francine Romero, Associate Dean for the College of Public Policy at UTSA and serves as Chair of the City of San Antonio’s Conservation Advisory Board.
The panel focused on the main issue of water regulatory environment of San Antonio and South Texas. The panel mainly touched on the issues of the different legal difficulties and challenges that derive from getting water and regulating it in environmentally friendly ways.
What seemed to pique the interest of most people at the symposium was the Mr. Puente’s mention of a brackish groundwater desalination plant for SAWS- hopefully the largest in the nation. Mr. Puente claims that San Antonio is sitting on an entire reserve of brackish groundwater that SAWS wishes to tap into as an alternative to past talk of a desalination plant for the Gulf Coast of Texas. The groundwater desalination plant would give relief to the use of fresh water resources in South Texas to ensure good water availability in the future.
Mrs. Scott of SARA focused on the San Antonio river basin, specifically the “quantity and quality of water.” Mrs. Scott explained how the San Antonio basin is unique to South Texas since numerous sources of water all meet together in San Antonio’s river basin before naturally draining into the Gulf. The main problem that SARA has faces is nonpoint source pollution such as dirty city drains, dirty rain runoff from parking lots and polluted creeks. All this polluted water runoff being dumped in one area like San Antonio’s river basin leads to a disruption of the water runoff’s natural cleaning process before going into the Gulf. What SARA has done to prevent this pollution from occurring is going through the implementation of ecosystem restoration of dirty creeks, mainly in the West side of San Antonio, and offering up redesigns to urban constructions like parking lots in hopes to drain rain runoff in more natural ways. As well, they have worked with the government to give incentives like tax breaks to people use environmentally friendly ways of water drainage. Throughout this journey SARA has enlisted the help of SAWS and other partners in order to bring these issues to light.
Dr. Romero closed the panel with the main talk of conservation easements over the Edwards Aquifer Contributing Zone. The conservation easements are different pieces of land bought by San Antonio’s Conservation Advisory Board solely for the purpose of protecting it. The land is not open to the public nor can it be built upon in any way. Though it may sound extreme, Dr. Romero ensured that it is necessary to ensure that the land the water is running through is safe and clean in order to have the best possible quality of water in the Edwards Aquifer. The challenge with this is that most of the water going into the Edwards Aquifer is not in Bexar County. Most of the land that must be purchased is located in the counties of Medina and Uvalde. Dr. Romero focused on the ongoing struggle of purchasing these lands and the public’s sometimes critical opinion of this program since 1/8 cent sales tax is currently being used to fund these land purchases of conservation easements.
The panel closed with questions from the audience where each panel speaker expanded on details for certain projects, all thoroughly confident and organized in what their plans and goals were for San Antonio’s water conservation.