Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Texas Town Tries to Cap Free-Flowing Water Use San Antonians Spar over Access to Key Aquifer

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Texas Town Tries to Cap Free-Flowing Water Use San Antonians Spar over Access to Key Aquifer

Article excerpt

WITH its irrigated golf courses and scenic river walk, San Antonio doesn't look like a city poised on the brink of a water crisis.

But its smoothly flowing river and lush lawns belie increasing turmoil in the city's water sources. Like many areas, San Antonio is confronting tough choices as its finite water supplies collide with rising consumption. And a bitter battle over access to the key Edwards Aquifer here may hold lessons for regions struggling to change old attitudes about water use.

Arid Western states long ago began to face up to water-supply dilemmas, responding with laws that divvy up ownership of every drop of water. Now scarcity "has come east" to wetter climes where citizens are accustomed to thinking of water as a free resource, says Kenneth Frederick, an economist at Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

In the case of Texas, the issue boils down to city planners confronted by 50-year growth projections. The state is predicting that population will double in the next five decades. Yet 80 percent of Texas water supplies have been developed already.

To some, the answer lies in more dams and reservoirs. At the Texas Water Development Board, which identifies and finances water projects, supply chief Steve Densmore believes the state still has 25 "better" sites for new reservoirs and 186 potential sites in all.

But Peter Emerson, an economist with the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, scorns the Texas attitude of "we'll build another dam." In fact, he says, landowners and environmentalists who value free-flowing streams will oppose new reservoirs.

What's more, no unowned water is available for capture. "Basically, in Texas, the streams have been totally allocated," says Ron Kaiser, a researcher at Texas A&M University in College Station.

The dispute over the Edwards Aquifer in south Texas - which has been wending its way through the courts for four years - is pitting landowners eager to maintain pumping rights to water flowing under their property against environmentalists and city planners arguing that San Antonio must develop a broad program to manage its water resources. …

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