By Thomas G. Mason
Lower Colorado River Authority
Can the Lower Colorado River Authority be trusted to keep its word? Absolutely. LCRA has continued to honor its contract with the San Antonio Water System to study the feasibility of transferring water from the Colorado River basin to San Antonio. We only wish that SAWS would do the same.
Thomas G. Mason
Lower Colorado River Authority
The agreement SAWS and LCRA signed in 2002 mandated a feasibility study to determine if there is enough water in the Colorado River to divert a portion of it to San Antonio. The results of the study showed that the amount of water that would be available would be inadequate to meet the project requirements. Legislation authorizing the studies included clear language to ensure that any transfer of river water must protect and benefit the Colorado basin. LCRA did not unilaterally change the parameters of the study, only applied standards required to ensure that the project would protect and benefit the Colorado basin.
Rather than accept the comprehensive studies’ scientific reality, SAWS decided to sue LCRA for breach of contract. That suit was dismissed by a district court earlier this year. SAWS claims that its future water supplies will need to be based on sound relationships with neighboring communities. However, SAWS is the entity that has set a dangerous precedent for such partnerships, by filing a spurious lawsuit seeking $1.23 billion in damages.
Although SAWS and LCRA together have spent more than $2 million on litigation that hasn’t provided a drop of water to anyone, SAWS is spending still more of its ratepayers’ money appealing the dismissal. The district court judge said it is clear that LCRA has governmental immunity from this lawsuit. Governmental immunity is a longstanding tenet of Texas law. In fact, the City of San Antonio itself has used the same law to combat a much smaller claim by a private vendor in recent years.
While LCRA has honored its portion of the agreement, SAWS has not. SAWS has ignored a contract obligation to pay $500,000 due LCRA on March 1. We believe a contract is a legal bond, and LCRA is prepared to keep its word and pay approximately $18 million as its half of the cost of the feasibility studies once the agreement is terminated. However, SAWS has not triggered the contract provision that would entitle it to that repayment.
Keeping the lawsuit going means San Antonio ratepayers will be on the hook for even more legal expenses, and without the benefit of the approximately $18 million LCRA is prepared to pay SAWS when the agreement ends. Continuing the litigation hinders San Antonio’s opportunity to recover some of its expenses and move forward.
San Antonio needs a new source for water as it continues to grow. However, the answer to the city’s water needs is not to be found in a lawsuit, but in regional cooperation. Water is a limited resource in this part of Texas and only by cooperation will San Antonio and all of Central Texas find solutions to provide water for the future.
LCRA wants to work together with SAWS and others to manage this precious resource to the benefit of everyone in the region. It is inevitable that as a major water provider for Central Texas, LCRA will be working with many other providers to meet tomorrow’s demands for water.
That’s why continuing expensive and fractious litigation is a dubious strategy for taking the necessary next steps in regional cooperation on water issues. Building strong relationships will help Texas find ways to provide the water that all of us need.
Future collaborations naturally will mean new contracts with different agencies. LCRA has honored its contract with SAWS to study the possibility of transferring water from the Colorado River basin to San Antonio. It is the fact that there simply is not enough water for an inter-basin transfer that SAWS doesn’t like. A lawsuit cannot change that fact, no matter how much we spend on it.