With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
Francine Sanders Romero, an associate dean in the College of Public Policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is the chairwoman of the City of San Antonio Conservation Advisory Board. On Thursday, the San Antonio City Council unanimously approved a controversial pipeline project that would provide the city with a new source of water. The project had divided business leaders who were supporting the project and environmental activists and consumers who were concerned about the costs. In our latest Q&A, we speak to Romero about the pipeline project, and how Texas might see similar projects pop up statewide.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: In what ways will this project assist San Antonio’s water supply?
Francine Sanders Romero: It gives us the additional water that we are undoubtedly going to need in the future.
Trib+Water: Do you think that future demand is as high as it’s been predicted to be?
Romero: People are coming here — we are arguably the fastest-growing city in the fastest-growing state. There is going to be great deal of demand, with not just residents but with businesses moving here. So, yes, SAWS’ own projection shows that relying on the Edwards Aquifer alone is not going to meet the demand that we’re going to have.
Trib+Water: Is it possible that this pipeline could ever replace the Edwards Aquifer?
Romero: I hope not! I feel very strongly about that. The Edwards Aquifer is our cheapest source of water. And this may sound strange, but I think culturally it is important that we have the Edwards Aquifer — that is our water source for this region. It is available, it is cheap.
And the thing about the Edwards Aquifer is we can’t abuse it — people like to sometimes abuse their water supply — because we are regulated in how much we can tap the Edwards Aquifer. I think it’s important that we use the Edwards Aquifer to the extent that the law allows.
Trib+Water: Do you think there is a chance the area will grow so much, that there will ever be a day when San Antonio needs another water source, beyond these two?
Romero: I don’t know. I don’t think in our lifetime that would happen. I don’t know — that’s a scary scenario. For something like that to happen, it would probably involve some other mass change that people are seeing in the future … maybe where people living on the coastlines would have to move because of global warming. Maybe they would have to move here.
Trib+Water: I don’t know if it’s possible to answer this question, but what do you think that third source looks like?
Romero: I would imagine it would have to be desalination.
Trib+Water: Getting back to this pipeline project, what would you say to people who called it too risky or too expensive?
Romero: The biggest risk here is we get more water than we need and we have to pay for it. I think that’s a possibility, so that remains a risk, but I feel like the responses to that probably outweigh it — we are going to need more water, and some of the extra water we get through the pipeline we will be able to sell to communities down the 35 corridor. So I think that’s correct, that there is some element of risk, but there is always some element of risk. I’m fairly well convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs. As far as the price, I mean, water is getting expensive. It just is what it is. You cannot get around that.
Trib+Water: Do you think we’re going to see similar projects like this one pop up in other cities statewide?
Romero: Oh yeah. The issue in Texas is not a shortage of water; it is a shortage of water in the right places. Projects that transfer water in the high growth areas will have to be what we’re looking at now. It has to be a statewide approach.