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As water in Texas becomes scarcer and more valuable, private interests are buying up water rights and taking them to market. And as a rapidly growing city whose long-term water supply is uncertain, San Antonio is a prime market for the speculators, reported the San Antonio Express-News.
Oilman and corporate raider T. Boone Pickens is offering San Antonio a refined 4-year-old plan to float billions of gallons of Panhandle groundwater down the Brazos River for San Antonio to pick up in a pipeline.
In the meantime, Houston company also announced that it has acquired the rights to 24 trillion gallons of groundwater in three counties west of Houston.
American PureTex Water Corp. officials say they want to market the water to Houston, San Antonio and other cities that are interested in environmentally sustainable yields from the Gulf Coast Aquifer, according to San Antonio Express-News.
"We have proposals almost weekly," said SAWS Board Chairman James Mayor. "There are a lot of people out there wanting to sell water right now. But we have a policy that they have to prove the sciencethat it's sustainable, that it doesn't affect the neighbors where they're drawing it from."
According to Mayor, the price has to be favorable for the ratepayers. "We investigate everyone that is proposed to us and they go through a process."
The utility has options working in four other proposalstwo of them groundwater and two of them surface water.
SAWS officials have been reticent on a proposal from holders of Edwards Aquifer irrigation rights in Uvalde County to lease up to 50,000 acre-feet.
Pickens' Mesa Water Inc. is offering to sell up to 200,000 acre-feet (65.2 billion gallons) of water each year for up to 125 years to downstate cities from 400,000 acres he and his neighbors own in the Texas Panhandle.
The water would be drawn from the Ogallala Aquifer, a sandy formation that's the largest and most productive aquifer in the United States. Its levels in many areas of the Central Plains are dropping rapidly because water is being used faster than it's being put back in naturally, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
Pickens' proposal is being criticized by environmental groups. Because they feel the areas of the Ogallala are already severely depleted, and the plan could harm endangered fish in the Canadian River.
If San Antonio were to become a customer, Pickens would pipe the water 171 miles to the Brazos River, let it flow downriver for 374 miles to Milam, where SAWS would put it in a pipeline and run it 150 miles to San Antonio. The projected cost, Pickens said, is about $650 an acre-foot, less than most other options San Antonio has, according to San Antonio Express-News.
George Abbey, chairman of PureTex Water's board, said that its shareholders approved the swap of shares to acquire water rights along with oil and gas interests in Austin, Colorado and Wharton counties, west of Houston.
"This acquisition places PureTex Water in an ideal position to serve the future needs of South Texas cities with clean, high-yield drinking water," Abbey said.
"They left us some technical information that we've looked at but there hasn't been a follow-up conversation," said Susan Butler, SAWS water resources director. "Since they're in Wharton and Colorado counties, we'd want to do a thorough water availability analysis and see what that means for subsidence issues, the local needs or interference with our proposal to take water there.
"As we do with all of our prospects, we encouraged them to go through the regional planning process," Butler said.
"We'll talk to anybody. We look at every opportunity with a very serious perspective and an open mind, but some of the issues are still pertinent in our mind and those include the cost issue and the availability of water in the source area."
Butler said that the Texas Legislature's 7-year-old restrictions on selling water from one river basin to another have limited the types of offers.