GBRA delays water project to October 2005
Blames FOCL lawsuit
On Wednesday, June 15, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) General Manager Bill West met with city leaders of Bulverde, Boerne and Fair Oaks Ranch to inform them that GBRA would be delaying construction of the Western Canyon Regional Treated Water Supply Project by about three months-to October 2005. The three communities have "take or pay" contracts for the water with GBRA.
The Western Canyon project, designed to provide water annually from Canyon Reservoir to communities in Kendall County and western Comal County, is the focus of a lawsuit by Friends of Canyon Lake (FOCL) against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in federal district court in San Antonio. In an effort to delay or stop the state-approved project, FOCL is seeking to force the Corps of Engineers to perform a comprehensive environmental impact study. The most recent such study was done some 30 years ago in 1975.
U.S. District Judge Royal Ferguson heard arguments in the case on Thursday, May 28. At that time the judge said he will issue a ruling in about 60 days, which would be in late July. GBRA has aligned with the Army Corps of Engineers against Friends of Canyon Lake and GBRA's West said that the construction delay corresponds to the judge's planned deliberation time. He placed the blame for the delay of the project directly on the Friends of Canyon Lake lawsuit in a press release issued Friday, June 17.
Since the Western Canyon project's bonds were sold in April of 2003 and debt service payment must begin in April of 2005, GBRA's construction delay means that Bulverde, Boerne and Fair Oaks will start paying to service the project's debt some six months prior to receiving water. Not surprisingly, the three communities have now joined GBRA in the lawsuit as "defendent interveners" on behalf of the the Corps of Engineers, according to West.
"It's unfortunate and unfair that the citizens of these communities will be penalized by FOCL's lawsuit and delaying tactics," said West. "This means that Bulverde, Boeme and Fair Oaks Ranch will have to pay their proportionate share of the approximately $450,000 monthly debt service for an additional six months before they receive water from the project, due to FOCL's legal maneuverings."
West said that construction on the Western Canyon project already is well underway at Canyon Reservoir, with a new membrane filtration plant that will provide high quality drinking water. Bids for the raw water intake structure have been received and will be awarded soon. Substantial portions of the right of way have been acquired for the pipeline, and the pipeline design is complete with awarding of bids anticipated in the next few months.
Friends of Canyon Lake, in a press release issued Saturday, June 19, called the project's delay "good news" and stated that, in addition to their lawsuit, another reason for the delay might be that "GBRA is also facing stiff resistance from a number of property owners to deeding right of way to the huge pipeline ... GBRA apparently plans to use 'eminent domain' and condemn portions of their property in order to push the project through. This heavy-handed approach has not set well with these taxpayers."
"We're hoping that this additional time will cause subscribers to realize that they signed up for a 'pig in a poke,"' commented Bob Wickman, on behalf of FOCL's Board of Directors. "This project should never have gotten this far without a legitimate environmental impact statement to document the adverse impact to our county's economy," he added.
Since the completion of Canyon Dam and Reservoir in 1964, GBRA has been allowed to sell up to 50,000 acre feet of water from Canyon Lake annually, approximately 16 percent of the lake's normal volume. At that time five electric power generating plants downstream were granted "senior rights" to surface water totalling 40,000 acre feet annually. Over time GBRA gained control of the five plants and these senior rights. In 1997, GBRA offered to "subordinate" their surface water senior rights downstream in return for the right to pump an additional 40,000 acre feet of water from Canyon Lake annually.
The state approved the plan, which now allows GBRA to sell up to 90,000 acre feet of water from the lake each year or about 28 percent of the lake's normal volume. GBRA's "take or pay" contracts protect against subscribers' contracting for more water than they can presently use. But the mechanism also encourages subscribers to take all the water they have under contract, even in drought years.
FOCL is concerned that the diversion of that much water from the lake will cause the levels of Canyon Lake, and the Gaudalupe River below the dam, to drop drastically. The group feels that such a scenario would drastically impact "the fragile recreation-based economy of central Comal County," according to their press release. GBRA states that "Canyon Dam and Reservoir ... as a joint project of the U.S. Corps of Engineers and GBRA ... was built to provide flood control and a dependable supply of stored water for the region," according to their press release.