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Attacking the aquifer and other bad bills

Sigh…What do some people have against a clean and stable water supply?

Advocates for the Edwards Aquifer, already stunned by the pace of development over the recharge zone, are incensed by bills making their way through the Texas Legislature that would gut the protections that do exist.

Even a representative for local developers who helped craft the compromises at the heart of the current protective city ordinances said common sense should lead people to oppose most of the proposed bills.

Observers say passage of the bills would undo years of efforts by those in San Antonio to pass ordinances striking a balance between development and preservation, to limit the density and types of construction over the area where rainfall and streamflows refill the aquifer.

“These are developer dream bills,” said Richard Alles, technical research director for Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas. “You’ve got people in the Legislature who are limited government advocates and they don’t believe in regulations and don’t believe that developers should be regulated.”

State Sen. Kenneth Armbrister, D-Victoria, who tried two years ago to yank water quality powers from the Edwards Aquifer Authority, is the author of most of the developer-friendly bills.

Armbrister’s Senate Bill 1363 says cities don’t have the authority of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to regulate water quality and that a city can enforce water quality rules adopted prior to passage of this bill only to the extent that they agree with the standards and practices of the state commission.

That effectively would gut the aquifer protection measures approved by the San Antonio City Council in early 1995 and by Austin voters in 1992, said Brad Rockwell, deputy director of the Save Our Springs Alliance in Austin.

Another Armbrister bill, SB 1362, would strip away a city’s ability to regulate within its extraterritorial jurisdiction the density or number of buildings or lots and the percentage of land covered by concrete, buildings and other nonporous surfaces. The bill specifically removes an exemption that covers the Edwards recharge zone outside San Antonio.


Gene Dawson Jr., a San Antonio engineer whose firm has had a hand in much of the city’s recent development, has sat on several panels that worked out compromises on city ordinances that restrict development.

Dawson said that local development groups are not pushing for the two Armbrister bills. “I’ve not seen any lobbying effort on those at all,” he said.

“I just can’t believe a bill like that would be passed,” he said of SB 1363. “It seems like that would have so much common-sense opposition from all the cities.”

Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio, who battled Armbrister two years ago over the senator’s efforts to strip water quality powers from the Edwards Aquifer Authority, said another battle is brewing over these two bills and others that would make it easier for developers.

“I think these bills are aimed at cities like San Antonio that have been very progressive in establishing water quality provisions and regulations that a lot of the mainstream environmental community buys off on,” said Puente, who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“And there’s always a segment out there that wants to go their own way and they’re not willing to sit down and negotiate.

“Everything we’ve done here in San Antonio has been by compromise, by negotiation, that the development community has bought in on, and I think that’s the way it should work,” Puente said.

I’m at a loss. Honestly, I have no idea what Armbrister is up to, though I’m sure a little forensic accounting of his campaign contributions would be illuminating. If anyone reading this is in Sen. Armbrister’s district, please give him a call (512-463-0118) and an earful about these awful bills. Via B and B.

Sadly, there’s more. PinkDome has the details of two more bad bills, SB848 and SB574, both of which are more sops to developers. These bills are the brainchildren of San Antonians Frank Madla and Jeff Wentworth, though Madla has three Republican cosponsors on his piece of work. More details can be found at the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance webpage.

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