Will San Antonio Run Out of Water?

Now local landowners are reporting that their wells are running dry, leading experts to investigate which major city in the world could be the first to run out of water completely. Could it be San Antonio? The deal with Vista Ridge is sending billions of dollars out of the city, including an enormous double-digit rate of return to investors (originally the Spanish transnational company, Abengoa, but now eight foreign banks, in addition to private investors).The business community in San Antonio embarked on a “quest” to diversify water sources due to fears that water scarcity was hurting economic development, according to Pérez, executive director of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. To achieve this, the city began looking for water elsewhere, a politically difficult task because importing it would be extremely expensive and could harm the environment. In addition, capturing, treating and reusing municipal stormwater could become an important local source of water supply, simultaneously preventing damage caused by floods and pollution of the San Antonio River.

San Antonio residents can also come together to prepare the entire city to overcome the inevitable droughts (and floods) that lie ahead. While several private landowners are starting to sell their groundwater to cities such as San Antonio and El Paso, the vast majority of the state's water has no commodity value. However, if San Antonio were to start thinking of those watersheds as water catchment areas, SAWS (along with all the other agencies that deal with water management and flood control) could invest in capturing and treating stormwater as close as possible to where it falls and where it can be used effectively. George Rice, a San Antonio groundwater hydrologist who represented landlords who opposed the project, said he wasn't surprised that residents now need to reduce their pumps. Every morning since the end of June, Allen Ramírez has been part of an ongoing trucking operation to keep water flowing for the people of Concan, a small town about 85 miles west of San Antonio. The pipeline helped conserve the delicate Edwards aquifer, on which San Antonio has historically depended for water.

San Antonio's main water source (underground, the Edwards aquifer) is at much lower risk than the reservoirs fed by the Melbourne River, which are subject to significant evaporation, especially during summer heat waves. The looming question remains: will San Antonio run out of water? To answer this question requires a comprehensive understanding of how much water is available in each source and how much is being used. It also requires an understanding of how climate change will affect future availability and demand. With this knowledge in hand, San Antonio can develop strategies for conserving existing resources and finding new sources of water.