The San Antonio Water System department of the city is taking a bold step in its claim as the rightful owner of its treated wastewater (or reclaimed water) instead of letting it flow downstream to other communities, as My San Antonio Online reports. The problem that the law firm in San Antonio representing SAWS is encountering is that those downstream communities are attempting to claim the water, too.
It’s clear that Texas is facing a dwindling water supply in rivers, streams, lakes and even low levels in its aquifers. In combination with a rising population, the state is also pretty handy with its regulatory and legal pressures on all water supplies, as any law firm in San Antonio would know. While SAWS is insisting that it is an industry leader in sustainable environmental utility practices by treating its wastewater for reuse, the communities who are literally downstream are arguing that they’re being robbed of their rightful water supply. This is the legal battle that SAWS’ law firm in San Antonio is facing.
Meanwhile, advocates of the wastewater retention plan are extolling its benefits, including reduced demand on the Edwards aquifer nearby. Advocates also make local investment arguments, reporting that taxpayers send more than 100 million gallons down the drain each day, which is collected and treated by SAWS. If retained, it can be used to water golf courses and supply major employers and area attractions like Toyota, USAA, Microsoft and the San Antonio River walk, among others. It costs more than $60,000 per day to clean the water, and the argument that San Antonio taxpayers deserve the authority to retain ownership and control over the water even after it is discharged into the river is an interesting one – and one that is seemingly backed up by the passage of SB 1 in 1997 by the Texas Legislature, SAWS’ law firm in San Antonio reminds us.
But what about the downstream communities? SAWS contends that by retaining control of the water, San Antonio can utilize the “bed and banks” of the San Antonio river to transport water all the way to San Antonio Bay on the Gulf Coast, providing multiple benefits to the river along its route. SAWS insists that its reclaimed river water rights would be protected for downstream users based on the availability of the water in the river.
This argument isn’t enough for many downstream communities who contest that by restricting their current water rights, they won’t have adequate water supply for their industry. Small towns are especially vulnerable and in season of drought, suffer exponentially more than cities like San Antonio who have the sophisticated treatment plants for wastewater. It is clear there is more at stake here for both San Antonio and the downstream communities. The claim on the wastewater is still under evaluation by the Texas Commission on Environment Quality, but it’s an issue that’s stirring up opinions and concerns, and many are eagerly awaiting the decision by TCEQ.