San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Metro and State News Page 05B
Coalition urges SAWS board to reject sewage plan
Publication Date : April 4, 2007
A contingent of people representing groups and residents wanting to protect the Edwards Aquifer asked trustees of the San Antonio Water System to retreat from plans to extend its sewer service area into Northwest Bexar and surrounding counties.
"Providing sewer systems will open the Hill Country in Northwest Bexar County to much higher-density housing development, easily as high as four to six lots per acre, which would otherwise not be possible," said Ronald Green, president of the Helotes Heritage Association.

"It is very troubling that our public utility, the agency charged with enforcing San Antonio's water-quality ordinances, would proceed with a plan of this type," said Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, a coalition of 40 groups seeking to protect the aquifer and its related ecosystems.

SAWS officials in January applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to expand the utility's sewer service area by about 435,000 acres, or 680 square miles, to match the city's 5-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The eight applications still are in the early stages of being processed by the state agency and were not on the utility board's agenda for discussion or action. Opponents said they wanted their voices heard before the application that stretches up into Bandera and Kendall counties gets too far along.

"SAWS, you must be reminded, does not represent the development community and is not its handmaiden," said Loretta Van Coppenolle with the San Antonio Area Progressive Action Coalition, one of two dozen people who addressed the board on the issue. "SAWS' first duty is to maintain a pure water supply for existing needs."

Mayor Phil Hardberger, also a board member, assured the speakers that "it's very much a question still under consideration."

Board Chairman Alex Briseņo said that SAWS' desire to be the monopoly provider of sewer service is really more of a defensive measure than an effort to expand services.

"I believe the intent is to be able to manage growth," he said.

Kelley Neumann, vice president of facilities engineering and construction, told the board that SAWS does not extend sewer lines just because it is the exclusive provider in an area. Developers or homeowners have to bear the cost of extending lines, she said.

But being the exclusive provider would keep small companies and utility districts from popping up to service subdivisions with facilities that might not meet the standards that SAWS would require, Neumann said.

Currently, growth in that area is limited by the availability of water and county requirements for minimum lot sizes to ensure adequate spacing of septic tanks installed individually at each home site.

Briseņo said the board would look for opportunities to get more public input as the application process goes forward.

The board also got audited financial reports for 2006 that showed the utility had $427.2 million in revenues -- $91.7 million more than budgeted.