GBRA: Western Canyon project progressing

GBRA issues update on project



controversy continues


By Richard Zowie

Times Guardian Staff Writer


The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority released current details of the Western Canyon Treated Water Supply Project.

The Seguin-based GBRA is responsible for the project's design, acquirement of the proper permits, financing, construction and operation. Treated water from the project would be transported through about 45 miles of pipeline to customers throughout Comal and Kendall Counties.

Total cost of the Western Canyon project is estimated to be $82 million, which covers the design, engineering, plant construction, pipeline and rights-of-way acquisition. The in-basin per acre cost for Canyon stored water is currently $84 per acre-foot. This was approved by the GBRA board of directors as of October 1, 2003. The total cost of the delivery of treated water from the plant is now estimated by GBRA to be $2.75 per 1,000 gallons of water.

Water source for the project is from the Canyon Reservoir, and the raw water pump station there could potentially treat 10 million gallons per day from the reservoir.

Plans are for the water treatment plant to be built at Startz Hill near the reservoir; the plant would use membrane filtration technology and would use three intake pipes at locations in the reservoir at 880, 860 and 810 feet above mean sea level. While operating, about 97 percent of the diversions would be made from the top two intakes (the primary and secondary). The third intake is at the lowest elevation.

According to the Texas Water Code, the intakes must be located and be built to where they can obtain raw water from the "best quality available from the source...Intakes shall be located and constructed in a manner which will allow raw water to be taken from a variety of depths and which will permit withdrawal of water when reservoir levels are very low. Fixed level intakes are acceptable if water quality data is available to establish that the effect on raw water quality will be minimal."

Water supply customers (cities, industries, etc.) will receive their water when it's released from the dam's base through the outlet.

GBRA officials say the lowest intake will be used only in cases of severe drought where the reservoir elevation is lowered below the primary and secondary intakes.

"Multiple-level intakes are standard design in most water supply reservoirs," said GBRA general manager Bill West. Other places using multiple-level intakes include Lake Meredith and Lake Georgetown with five, Lake Jacksboro with four, Lake Texans with three and Stillhouse Hollow with two.

Additional components in the project include two remote pump stations and a Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition Control system.

On April 21, 2004, GBRA's board of directors awarded a water treatment plant contract portion #4 to Martin K. Eby Construction Company, located in Wichita, Kan. Moreover, the raw water intake was awarded to Cajun Constructors of Baton Rouge, La., May 22 at a GBRA board meeting. Delivery of the treated water is expected to start by late 2005.

"The pre-construction process, including meeting with property owners and negotiating rights-of-way for the pipeline, is proceeding on schedule," said David Welsch, GBRA Director of Project Development. "GBRA worked hard to meet personally with each property owner, answer questions, and reach a fair and equitable arrangement."

Welsch added: "At this point, easements have been acquired from Canyon Reservoir to Ralph Fair Road near Bergheim, to meet the needs of the first phase of the pipeline construction. Of this entire area, only 5 tracts remain to be acquired. And nearly all field survey and appraisal has been completed in other areas."

The Western Canyon project will serve Boerne, Bulverde and Fair Oaks Ranch along with developments like Tapatio Springs Resort, Kendall County Utility Company, Cordillera Ranch and Johnson Ranch developments. These places already have agreements with GBRA for treated water supplies. GBRA officials say additional customers will eventually be added from other "certificated water supply areas."

GBRA has also signed contracts with San Antonio Water System and the San Antonio River Authority to use some water on a "returnable" basis. Officials say this will help the project to "operate at full capacity and consumption, enabling the water to be treated and distributed at a reasonable price to all customers."

Because of this, the pipeline will extend south to Bexar County for distribution by the contracted water suppliers, who will be responsible for the costs in their service areas. Providing water to Bexar County also helps prevent over pumping of the Edwards Aquifer, GBRA officials noted.

GBRA officials say they and other river authorities and water agencies are responsible for insuring that the public's current and future water needs are met, and this requires managing existing water sources and developing alternative supplies.

Parts of western Comal County and Kendall County currently depend on wells drilled into what are considered to be limited groundwater supplies from the Trinity Aquifer, and many of these wells suffer from water quality and quantity problems during low rainfall and drought.

While the Western Canyon project continues, so does the controversy surrounding it. In late May, Friends of Canyon Lake sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and GBRA to halt construction of the water intake system until an environmental impact report could be done (the last one done was in 1975). GBRA later announced a delay in the construction and blamed FOCL's lawsuit on that.

"The only thing that FOCL did was to request in 2001 that an Environmental Impact Statement be performed," said FOCL president Bob Wickman. "Both GBRA and what's now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) both declined. We felt that without the EIS that irreparable harm to an irreplaceable asset would take place."

Wickman called GBRA a "quasi-political, self-supporting agency" and feels it would be better if Canyon Lake were controlled by a state agency that sent its revenue into the state's general fund and was financed by the Texas State Legislature.

"I feel it's a conflict of interest that the treated water purveyor and the operator of the only sewage plant on the lake is the same organization," he said. "All we're asking is that they do this mission in a responsible manner and keep the public informed. I have a big disagreement with the executive sessions (closed door meetings) that the public isn't privy to."

Wickman feels that if GBRA is allowed to go forward with the Western Canyon project that it will reduce both the volume and quality of water in Canyon Lake along with reducing the lake's "enjoyment and attractiveness."

At press time, no federal ruling has been made on FOCL's lawsuit against COE and GBRA to halt the project until a new environmental impact statement is done. If one is done, Wickman feels the results could be astonishing.

"It would be front-page news revealing possible deception, intrigue and manipulation of information," he said. "Time is on the side of the Friends of Canyon Lake. The delay in the delivery of treated water is affecting its price, making it the highest-priced water in the state of Texas. The Environmental Impact Statement, if it is performed by a capable independent third party, will take a year or more and would take into account the effects of GBRA's plan on not only the lake businesses, but the businesses below the dam."

In response to Wickman's statement, GBRA general manager Bill West said: "Despite Mr. Wickman's attempts to misrepresent the situation, there is no possible deception or manipulation of information. There are only facts and those have been carefully and properly considered by the COE. With regards to the price of the Canyon water, it is a reasonable price at about $3 per thousand gallons. If a house uses 10,000 gallons a month in the summer, that would mean a $30 per month water bill. The statewide average is $3.36 per thousand, and there are some places in the state that pay $6 per thousand. Therefore, the $3 per thousand gallon rate is reasonable."

West added: "By their rhetoric, the so-called Friends of Canyon Lake are trying to create intrigue where none exists. We look forward to the determination by Federal Judge [Royal] Furgeson so that we hopefully can put an end to this unnecessary delay."

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