Heights Stays Afloat Of Water Issues
Following a wet spring, the state’s climatologist has declared a statewide years-long drought over.
Even so, leaders of communities across Texas say it’s vital to keep vigilant over a community’s water supply and how effectively residents use that water. The Alamo Heights City Council — looking after a population of more than 7,000 — authorized the purchase of 25 acre-feet of additional water rights in September and then another 120.8 acre-feet in December.
That move came as several San Antonio-area communities entered higher stages of pumping reductions declared by the Edwards Aquifer Authority. Because the Edwards Aquifer is Alamo Heights’ sole water supply source, the city must adhere to SAWS’ restrictions when necessary.
In spring 2014, public works director Patrick Sullivan told the council the drought was the cause for Alamo Heights starting the year 2014 drawing water at a lower level than it was drawing at the same time in 2013. The city had 2,658 acre-feet of permitted permanent water rights at that point, translating into 324 gallons of water per person per day.
Local officials in early 2014 worried that Alamo Heights could run into a water deficit before the end of 2014 if the water restrictions then in effect persisted. So the city’s elected leaders opted to be proactive and pursue additional water rights from the Edwards.
Alamo Heights currently owns and operates elevated water tanks that, combined, have a storage capacity of more than 700,000 gallons of water.
The main composite tank is at the city hall complex on Broadway, having replaced two towers that stood there for more than 70 and 80 years, respectively. Altogether, the tanks work to meet mandated storage requirements and improve system pressures at different parts of the city.
The city does have a water conservation plan dating back to 2009. Over the years city officials have strived to encourage residents and merchants about wise water use. Longtime resident and former Councilman Bill Kiel said that despite best efforts, some people take conservation awareness seriously and others do not. He also fears that the city is perhaps too lenient in doling out penalties to those who violate water restrictions.
“I don’t think it’s that critical an issue for most people, but it probably should be,” he said. “There has been a significant reduction in usage in the past couple of years but because of the restrictions.”
“The city has and will continue to look at different water conservation programs for the future,” added City Manager Mark Browne. “The staff has not received additional questions about Alamo Heights’ status in terms of long-term water supply.”
Officials also help to keep the public aware of water supply hazards. As required by state and federal law, the city on May 27 notified residents that a raw groundwater source sample tested positive for E. coli in a well at the city hall complex. The city immediately removed that well from service.
The notice on the city’s website stated that wells produce raw water — groundwater from a well before being treated/disinfected and before entering the distribution system.
“The main concern of these citizens was if the E. coli was in the actual drinking water, and staff confirmed that it was not,” Browne said.
Local officials added there was no boil water notice, and that residents did not need to treat their water prior to consumption. The city further investigated the possible source of the bacteria from the first test and followed America Water Works Association guidelines to treat the well.
BY EDMOND ORTIZ
Fate Of Tobin Land In the Air
The San Antonio City Council expects to consider soon a proposed multifamily development in the Oakwell Farms area that has prompted opposition from residents who currently live nearby. The city’s planning commission voted 7-1 on June 10 to reclassify a 46-acre tract at Harry Wurzbach and Oakwell Court that the Tobin Endowment intends to sell for the development of 956 apartment units. The endowment, a private charitable foundation, last fall sold a 43-acre tract to Houston developer David Weekley Homes, which initially envisioned developing 400 single-family homes on site.
The tract was recently appraised at $7 million. Sale proceeds would benefit the endowment named after the late Robert Tobin, the famed Texas art collector and patron. Three of the 46 acres would remain to support Tobin’s original estate, which serves as the endowment’s offices.
According to other news accounts, J. Bruce Bugg, Tobin Endowment chairman and trustee, said it was difficult finding the right client that could buy the land at market rate and promise to develop it in the same spirit that Tobin developed the adjacent 450 acres into Oakwell Farms, a prestigious master-planned community.
But over the last few months, several residents living near the tract have expressed worries about how any large-scale development could impact the area. Opposition grew so much that the single-family home plan was dropped, and the endowment has been seeking a new purchaser for the land.
A new idea also has cropped up: a multifamily development on the site. The endowment asked the city to downsize zoning from commercial/residential to residential to accommodate a Planned Unit Development. It’s a category that permits a property owner and potential developer to be flexible in planning one or more kinds of construction.
The Oakwell Farms Homeowners Association has tried talking things out with the endowment. While they admit the highly desired land will be developed, neighbors hope it will be in keeping with the rest of the community. Several dozen people spoke at the June 10 meeting, echoing similar sentiments in their opposition.
Representatives for the endowment said their plan would require no rule variances and that it met all basic city criteria. They added the endowment was legally right to request this type of rezoning.
BY EDMOND ORTIZ