The Alamo Sierran e-Newsletter — February, 2015
* General Meetings *
Tuesday, February 17th: Learn about Commuter Rail between San Antonio & Austin
Joe Black, Rail Manager of the Lone Star Rail District, will provide an update on progress of the LSTAR Commuter Rail between SA and Austin. It will utilize the Union Pacific track and make stops in San Marcos and New Braunfels. Progress is being made in Austin to move the project forward. San Antonio needs to become aware of this new future commuter service from San Antonio to Austin.
Because of a fee increase, we will no longer meet at the Witte Museum. Our new location is EcoCentro, located at San Antonio College, 1802 North Main Avenue at the northeast corner with Locust Street.
Times, a map, and speaker bios are on our Events page.
A Word from the Alamo Group Co-Chair
Abengoa’s Vista Ridge pipeline - green or greenwash?
Spain-based Abengoa is the Vista Ridge project partner responsible for building and operating the wells, pumping stations, pipeline, and filtration plants to deliver 50,000 acre feet of water to SAWS for 30 years. As a key partner, how much do we know about Abengoa and its plans for Vista Ridge?
Even before the plan went to City Council for approval, Abengoa had issued €500 million in “Climate Bonds” on September 25, 2014, and reported that about 20% of it was for Vista Ridge and Mexico’s Zapotillo-Leon water development projects.
Climate Bonds, also called Green Bonds, were just introduced in 2014. Developed and promoted by Ceres, the bonds are designed to assure private and institutional investors that their investment supports businesses whose products and services are certified as meeting certain environmental, social and governmental global standards.
Although Ceres Principles were developed in 1989 and beefed up in 2010 as Ceres Roadmap, there are still no specific standards for water infrastructure projects. This is especially worrisome because, as the AltEnergy stock advisory (and others) cautions, water development projects are especially complex for green bonds because they can have bad, conflicting social and environmental outcomes (see altenergystocks.com/archives/2014/06).
This has been true of other Abengoa water projects. One was Abengoa’s involvement in the 1999-2000 Cochabamba Water War, aka the Bolivia’s Water War. Abengoa was guaranteed 15% annual ROI in for development of this $2.4 billion water/wastewater/power project in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. A wave of popular demonstrations against the project resulted in the government cancelling it.
The Zapotillo-Leon project is also highly controversial, with many of the same concerns as Vista Ridge. It has considerable institutional and professional opposition centered in El Observatorio de Agua, a Jalisco State Government-formed water advisory committee (verdebandera.com.mx/en-jalisco-la-guerra-por-el-agua-comenzaron-hostilidades and cronicadesociales.org/tag/el-zapotillo).
While a Climate Bonds Expert Working Group just met for the first time in November 2014 to develop the criteria to back up climate bonds-certified water investments, Abengoa seems to have already budgeted, planned, and raised green funds for Vista Ridge without specific criteria to assess the environmental integrity of the bonds or project.
How will Abengoa and its subcontractors (such as Pape Dawson, et al.) adhere to principles such as:
- How will the biosphere be protected?
- How will the release of any substance that may cause environmental damage to the air, water, or the earth or its inhabitants be minimized?
- How will natural resource use be sustainable, such as in land use, transportation, equipment, and materials?
- How will wastes be reduced and recycled?
- How will energy conservation, use of clean energy, and net zero carbon goals be assured?
- How will the advice and counsel of persons in communities affected by this project be sought and the public informed?
- How will management commitment to these principles and best practices be assured?
Because Vista Ridge will mine groundwater to support senselessly explosive growth and urban sprawl, it is destined to produce a “bad, conflicting outcome.” Also, Abengoa, by selling itself as a green company and raising project funds through green bonds, is ethically obligated to live up to these commitments. It will take concerted efforts to assure this. Please take time to let Abengoa (firstname.lastname@example.org) know you want answers to these questions.
Lion's Field Events
Monthly films and presentations for your edification and enjoyment
Wednesday, January 28th: Water — Vista Ridge Update
Peggy Day, Alamo Group Chair, along with Conservation Committee Co-Chairs Meredith McGuire and Terry Burns, will tackle the recently approved Vista Ridge Pipeline including discussions of:
- Abengoa & Blue Water (Vista Ridge consortium) issues; the originating aquifer issues and its groundwater districts; more pipeline questions, its San Antonio connections, and sustainability issues other than water
- SAWS rates' update and how Vista Ridge would be paid for; can San Antonio afford Vista Ridge water without over-burdening the majority of residents with its costs; more information and questions about SAWS rate-restructuring (that, if approved by the City Council in mid-2015, will go into effect in 2016, regardless of whether the Vista Ridge project goes forward)
- why future development propelled by Vista Ridge water would be so bad for the Edwards Aquifer, why that future development would be completely unsustainable for San Antonio, and why it fails to prepare the City for resilience in the face of rapidly increasing Climate Change
- "best practices" and other innovations employed by other cities to expand and protect their water supply more sustainably (and more affordably) than SAWS' Vista Ridge and/or continuing current San Antonio practices (such as using aquifer water for irrigation and industrial/business uses that don't require potable water).
Wednesday, February 25th: Images of the West
Gary and Michelle Krysztopik have been traveling in the West and will present images of creative sustainable ideas that they spotted plus new design concepts. They also have interesting images of changes to landscape, including extreme weather events. Come welcome Gary and Michelle as they fill us in on what they saw.
Wednesday, September 24th: The Cove
The Cove examines dolphin hunting practices in Japan and was awarded the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010.
Wednesday, October 22nd: Introduction to Native Plants of Bexar County
John Nikolatos and Joan Miller, from the Native Plant Society of Texas, will discuss growing native plants to conserve water. John will give an introduction and Joan will present ten native plants recommended for San Antonio.
Our Lion's Field events are free and open to the public. They occur on the fourth Wednesday of each month at the Lion's Field Adult Center, 2809 Broadway @ Mulberry. Programs begin at 6:30 p.m..
Visit our Lion's Field Events page for a map and additional information.
Alamo Group Conservation Activities
SAWS is restructuring its water rates, in part to pay for Vista Ridge. We remain very concerned about SAWS plans to develop Vista Ridge pipeline to bring water 140 miles to supply more suburban growth around SA. We may already be seeing a consequence of this anticipated new water source. The 1/8 cent sales tax for Edwards Aquifer Purchase Program, which has raised over $350 million for purchase of lands over the Aquifer, must be renewed every five years since starting 2000. This year its renewal is threatened by short sighted interests who think “enough” has been done, and the money is needed elsewhere.
The city and county are asking for an “incidental taking permit” from Fish & Wildlife Service to allow for “incidental” destruction of endangered species habitat. This is a grave threat to golden cheek warbler and others, and would encourage still more sprawl around SA.
EPA has proposed to lower ozone standards from 75 ppb, to somewhere 60-70 ppb. Lone Star Chapter and Alamo Group are working to support lower standards to improve air quality and health, while TCEQ and industry say of course that these standards are too costly.
We support smart growth, including infill redevelopment within Loop 410, walkable neighborhoods, safe biking, and effective public transit. We are monitoring city Comprehensive Plan work. We are working with VIA to further transit options. We are supportive in principle of Lone Star Rail District plans for passenger rail service between SA and Austin. We are concerned about plans to expand Hwy 281 north of Loop 1604. There is strong evidence that adding freeway lanes never relieves congestion and encourages more sprawl.
Including efforts to ban disposable plastic bags, ban tar sealants on roadways, improve cement plant operations, reduce emissions from Eagle Ford, etc. WE NEED YOUR HELP! Please contact the Executive Committee if you can jump in.
Lone Star Chapter Report
Director Walker resigned late 2014 to take another job. Our interim director is Reggie James, who has extensive experience with Consumers Union. A search is on for a new long term Executive Director, and hope is this will be completed by June. Cyrus Reed is Conservation Director and will be our chief lobbyist during this session.
Legislative priorities include:
- Monitoring water management post approval of the state water plan.
- Resisting efforts to bring high level nuclear waste from around the country into Texas.
- Improving fracking and oil & gas impacts on the environment.
- Maintaining the public’s access to rulemaking. The State Office of Accessible Hearing is in “sunset” and there are efforts to restrict the contested case hearing process whereby affected citizens can challenge rules.
- Providing adequate funding for State Parks, eliminating diversions of dedicated tax funds.
- Protecting Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards and clean energy incentives.
LSC needs more non-tax exempt (c4) funds to support office staff and state lobbying activities. More needs to be done to encourage membership, financial support for lobbying efforts on these important issues that affect us, and building communication between Groups and Chapters.
Greg Abbott Aims to Chop Down Tree Protections
Governor Greg Abbott announced recently that dismantling San Antonio’s Tree Preservation Ordinance is one of his top priorities. Abbott, who frequently rails against federal laws that affect Texas, wants state government to overrule local control over growth and the environment.
This will be particularly destructive in our huge, densely populated city with air pollution, Edward’s Aquifer contamination, stormwater runoff and flooding problems. A uniform statewide prescription that treats the East Texas Piney Woods like the West Texas desert will not work for San Antonio.
According to the Express-News, Abbott said: "Now think about it — few things are more important in Texas than private property rights. Yet some cities are telling citizens that you don’t own some of the things on your own property that you have bought and purchased and owned for a long time. Things like trees.”
Unfortunately, Abbott fails to understand that San Antonio’s ordinance, like the vast majority in the state, does not apply to individual homeowners and property owners, only to developers. Abbott further decries that “Texas is being California-ized”. Ironically, a California corporation will be one of the primary beneficiaries of his legislation.
Abbott ignores the effects of land development on surrounding property owners, and this may be the biggest flaw in his argument. When trees are clear-cut, land paved over, and hundreds of buildings erected, large amounts of pollution begin to be discharged into our air and water. The cars in a typical subdivision spew millions of pounds of air pollution annually into the air we all share.
There is a huge increase in stormwater runoff that often necessitates flood control measures paid for by taxpayers. Moreover, contamination in the form of pesticides, herbicides, dog excrement, motor oil and chemicals is carried away in the runoff and ends up on other people’s property or in the Edwards Aquifer, our drinking water source.
San Antonio enforces its Tree Preservation Ordinance because trees help to mitigate this pollution. Abbott’s plan to axe our ordinance puts the profits of developers and corporations ahead of the health of the people of San Antonio and must be stopped. I encourage you to contact your State Legislators today in opposition to Abbott’s legislation.
Sign Up for Action Alerts
The Sierra Club is all about citizen action on critical issues. Quick citizen input often spells the difference between victory and defeat for important measures at the local and state levels. Sign up now to receive our local e-mail Conservation Action Alerts and let your voice be heard. Call (674-9489) or email Loyd Cortez and we'll add your name to our growing list of environmental activists.
Sustainable Economic Growth Requires Community-Wide Protection and Restoration of Eco-System Services
The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce claims that the City’s economic growth depends on SAWS acquiring water from another part of the state to supply a greatly increased population moving here to live in the huge number of new homes that developers are already proposing (mainly for the northern and western outskirts of San Antonio). That image of economic growth is utterly unsustainable, because it requires the destruction of some of our most important resources.
To have sustainable economic growth, San Antonio – as a community working for the common good – must invest in protecting, conserving, and restoring our entire ecosystem, as much as possible. The bats of Bracken Cave, our beautiful Bluebonnets, and our maturing trees are all producing valuable services, loss of which would cost a lot. Much of our eco-system is invisible to us – even those of us who like to hike and garden, so it is too easy for us to fail to recognize how important those eco-system services are.
Two largely invisible, but critical, features of San Antonio’s eco-system are the Edwards Aquifer and our entire watershed (from the Hill Country to the Gulf of Mexico). And there are several eco-system services that the aquifer performs: (a) various surface features, like sink-holes, capture rainwater and funnel it through limestone formations; (b) purifying the water of some contaminants as it passes through the surface and subterranean karst formations, (c) storing the water in an underground river where it is better protected from pollutants than surface water reservoirs and rivers, (d) where the aquifer emerges through natural springs, the pools of the springs and the creeks they feed provide natural habitat for numerous aquatic and riparian species that provide additional eco-system services.
Unsustainable growth in the past – especially the last 20 years’ of building dense suburban housing and commercial developments over the aquifer recharge, continuation, and transition zones – has done much irreparable damage. [See the map of these zones, with relevant creeks]. The impervious cover (e.g., buildings, roads, parking lots) over hundreds of acres of surface features that previously funneled rainwater into the aquifer has reduced the aquifer’s recharge capacity. Sewage from subdivisions over the aquifer has seeped into the aquifer and threatens water quality, while storm water laden with oil and other toxic contaminants works its way down creeks into the larger watershed.
There are better ways to protect our eco-system services for water sustainability:
- The City Council should promote and the voters approve re-authorization of the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program (that uses a fraction of sales tax revenues for conservation easements)
- All new development over these zones should be required to engage in most of the same conservation practices as required of ranches receiving conservation easements (e.g., only a very small percent of land surface could have impervious cover; minimal disturbance of Endangered Species habitat)
- SAWS should cease any approvals of new water service or sewage systems over the Aquifer recharge, continuation, or transition zones, and should require replacing deficient sewage systems in existing subdivisions
- All SAWS customers (including commercial customers) who use lots of water should be asked to pay extra for restoring or mitigating some of the eco-system services that have been damaged in the past
- All businesses whose impermeable-surface footprint is excessive should be required to build storm-water management features that turn that water into an asset, rather than liability, for the community
- All residents and businesses should greatly reduce their consumption of water, so the Edwards Aquifer is never drawn down faster than its natural recharge rate.>
About the paper newsletter
Due to the high costs for the paper newsletter, beginning 2016 it will be available only by e-mail and on the website. The e-newsletters have been produced eight times annually anyway, and the paper editions only four times a year.
So if you wish to continue to receive this newsletter we must have your preferred email address. Please update your info if necessary by e-mail to Loyd Cortez. Provide your name, address, and membership id if possible.
We apologize for any inconvenience this change may cause. But this will streamline our website and publishing efforts, and reduce administrative costs and save trees.
Outings: The Call of the Wild
Visit the Alamo Sierra Club Outings page on Meetup for detailed information about all of our upcoming Sierra Club Outings.