"The Q&A: Ron Nirenberg" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
San Antonio City Councilman Ron Nirenberg will play a significant role in many water decisions San Antonio will make in the coming months. The council is set to hold a public hearing Wednesday on a pipeline project that has garnered some controversy — some say it will feed water into a booming city, while others say it is financially risky and premature. Along with serving on San Antonio’s City Council, Nirenberg is an appointee of the National League of Cities’ Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Steering Committee.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: What are your thoughts on the Vista Ridge pipeline?
Ron Nirenberg: Well, I think it’s a very ambitious project that directly addresses, or would address, our challenges with regard to long-term water security. I say that because the chief concern here in San Antonio is the fact that we are experiencing a tremendous amount of growth, economic opportunity and frequency of drought conditions. All those factor into our need for comprehensive water planning at the city.
Trib+Water: Is that a challenge unique to San Antonio, or do you think it is being faced by other cities?
Nirenberg: I don’t believe it’s unique to San Antonio. What is unique to San Antonio is we have been primarily a single-water-source community since the origins of our city. Over the past 20 years, we’ve been doing a tremendous job at diversifying our water supply, conserving our water supply and so forth.
Trib+Water: What do you say to critics who call the plan financially risky or premature?
Nirenberg: On the financial risk side of things, the negotiations have deferred financial risk from the San Antonio Water System. The primary reason for engaging the third party in this contract is the ability to finance the infrastructure in a way that shields the water system from that risk.
Trib+Water: And to those critics who might call this pipeline premature — what would you say to them?
Nirenberg: That is a great debate to have, but I know the consequences of getting that wrong. Communities in this state and outside of this state are experiencing those consequences.
Trib+Water: So, better safe than sorry?
Nirenberg: Well, I wouldn’t phrase it that way. But what I would say is as far as the quantity of water, and the supply of the water, we know that we have gaps in our water supply in the outer years of this contract. But we also know we have a challenge as a single source water community, with regard to diversifying our water supply — just in terms of risk management. So there is value, tremendous value, in diversifying our water supply.
Trib+Water: Going forward, what else does San Antonio need to do to keep its water supply adequate for its community?
Nirenberg: I laid out a framework for myself, for SAWS and for the public to understand our efforts to diversify through this project. I think one of the primary things we need to do is make sure we have a renewed effort towards conservation. And that takes into account not only water management at SAWS, but how we plan for the growth of our city — which is why I called for a comprehensive water plan for the city and am engaged in the comprehensive planning efforts here as well. I think, also, we need to be doubly cognizant of regional cooperation and regional responsibility. When we, as a state, transfer water from one area to another, it recognizes the fact that we are increasingly urbanized as a community, but we can’t forget the fact that we do have important interests ahead economically but also in quality of life.
So we need to make sure we’re working together to shore up water supplies across our region. That’s one of the reasons why I appreciate the comments made by one of our board members that addresses the fact that we have protected the Edwards Aquifer and will continue to do so. But we also need to make sure we are working with communities from which we are getting water, such as Burleson County, and making sure that we’re doing our part to protect their aquifer as well.