Making growth pay for itself!

Bigger Badder Boondoggle: Water Treatment Plant #4

          Remember, one of’s founders,  Brian Rodgers (who has been investing in real estate in Austin for 25 years) told you the City paid $20 million more for the land for WTP#4 than it was worth.  Now they want to build this $400,000,000 boondoggle, while neither newspaper is telling you the unadulterated truth about why this is another bigger badder boondoggle for ordinary citizens.  

          Below is Brian’s letter to the editor of the Austin Chronicle in response to their article [“Dumping the Water Pump,” News, Feb. 20], followed by letters from other activists and concerned citizens.  Pass it on — and mark your calendars for our candidate forum on Saturday, March 14th, 4 to 6 pm at Opal Divine’s, 3601 S. Congress (Penn Field).  Wanna vote on our endorsements?  Dues are just $20 for the year.  Sign up here.

Brian Rodgers, co-founder

Dear Editor,

          Water Treatment Plant #4 is for the newcomers – the supposed next million people who are hungrily eyed and aggressively courted by that specific sector of Austin business which benefits directly from population growth and controls the levers of city government:  the real estate industry. The industry’s profits are taken along the development chain, but the costs of growth are offloaded onto the rest of us.

          The true cost of public infrastructure for a new single family house is estimated at over $25,000 which is that house’s proportionate share of new and expanded schools, roads, water, wastewater, solid waste, drainage, police, fire protection, EMS, and municipal buildings.  Who pays the $25,000?  The rest of us.

           Austin could charge $3,307 for each water tap but it barely collects $900, not including the 30% of fees waived and exempted. Austin could charge $1,852 for a wastewater connection but it settles for about $600 average. Austin neglects to charge a road impact fee of $2,000 per house like Fort Worth charges.  Between city officials unwilling to charge the full cost of growth and the State of Texas prohibition on charging developers for their impact on schools and certain infrastructure, the cost must be paid by the rest of us in staggering amounts.  Over $520 million in bonds for new schools were approved by voters in 2004 and $567 million in infrastructure bonds passed in 2006 to cover many of these very costs.

          WTP#4 can clearly be postponed for many years at great savings – your savings – because that’s who will be stuck with the bill.

Brian Rodgers,

Here’s Bill Bunch’s of Save Our Springs letter to the Chronicle (with his permission to publish):

Dear Editor:

          While Katherine Gregor’s article on Austin’s proposed $500 million Water Treatment Plant No. 4 covered lots of ground, it missed a few critical points.  The accompanying chart incorrectly labeled as “SOS projection” is actually the City’s own projected increase in “peak day” water demands while starting from last summer’s actual peak day use of 219 MGD (million gallons/day).  Simply looking at the chart reveals that summer peak day demands are flat or declining as citizens and businesses wake up to the water, energy and money to be saved by simply paying attention.

          We know there’s plenty more to be saved, at a tiny fraction of the cost of building and operating a new treatment plant.  Our per capita water use is 25 to 30 percent higher than the very modest state recommended goal for municipal water use.  Yet our “green” council refuses to even adopt this minimum recommendation.  Fifteen percent of our water is lost to leaks, breaks, faulty meters and water theft.  Where’s the plan to stop this waste?  City efforts to substitute nonpotable reuse water for peak summer irrigation and commercial cooling demands are stuck in first gear.

          Even if we needed extra treatment capacity, the City’s own consultants proposed a replacement for the Green plant downtown for one-fourth the cost of WTP4 while providing almost twice the treatment capacity.  The plan would still free up 80 percent of the Green site for much needed downtown condos.

          Any way you slice it, WTP4 is a colossal waste of money (aka boondoggle) that cannot be squared with the City’s proclaimed interest in sustainability.


Bill Bunch, Save Our Springs Alliance

Letter to the Chronicle from Connie Ripley, reprinted with her permission.
Dear Editor,
    In your water article last week [“
Dumping the Water Pump,” News, Feb. 20], Austin Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros stressed, “only to build Phase I.” Meszaros obviously does not have to pay the additional $400 million.
    Meszaros also said the new plant would allow the city to “take down” part of an old plant for repairs. If repairs were needed, why weren’t they done before Green was decommissioned? Seems $400 million is a lot for us to pay for that oversight.
    “Davis and Ullrich draw water from the Colorado River. WTP 4 will draw from Lake Travis.” Lake Travis is a part of the Colorado River just like Lake Austin. This is not a second source of water! The difference is Lake Austin has the additional benefit of inflows from Barton Creek and Bull Creek. Those will be lost with an intake in Lake Travis.
    What rate increase on water from the Lower Colorado River Authority? In the LCRA/City of Austin Settlement Agreement (June 2007), Austin does not have to pay another penny to LCRA for water until it reaches a trigger point of 201,000 acre-feet per year two years in a row. That might have happened by 2020 to 2025 if the current rate of conservation was not so good. Meszaros certainly skimmed over that fact! Another point for conservation.
    Producing less water reduces greenhouse-gas emissions. Again, conservation over a new plant wins again.
    The “other” Colorado River cities that Austin mayoral candidate Lee Leffingwell refers to beat us hands down on conservation. Los Angeles uses 125 gallons per capita per day compared to Austin’s 172 GPCD. Austin has a long way to go in “selling conservation.”
    Lake Travis is the lifeblood of Central Texas. It is time the city realizes that fact.
    Save water. Save Lake Travis.
 — Connie Ripley

From Judi Graci, with her permission.

Dear Editor,

          During the drought of 2006, LCRA General Manager Joe Beal said, “That lake is going to go empty the night before it rains.  I mean empty.  If this will have an impact on you, you better plan for it.  It could be happening this year.”  Again we are in an “exceptional” drought category.  Lake Travis not only supplies our water but it cools our power plants.  San Antonio became serious about conservation with their limited water supply.  Austin’s answer should not be going to the bottom of Lake Travis with their deep-water intake.

           Not only WTP#4 is planned for Lake Travis, the cities of Round Rock, Cedar Park, and Leander (BCRUA) want to start construction of their Lake Travis water supply project, another deep-water intake.  Round Rock’s usage is over 200gpcd.  The best the Round Rock Council can do is implement a 5 month peak usage rate structure that targets consumption over 215gpcd.  The Texas Water Development Board recommends 140gpcd.  Conservation programs could save Round Rock 30% of its water needs. 

          San Antonio’s conservation plans cost $400 an acre foot of water.  What are the costs per acre foot on these two $400 million water supply projects?   What is the cost of driving out 2222 to the Oasis to be met with 92 acres of treatment plant facilities?  What revenue could that site have produced to the City of Austin?

         Lake Travis is the single most important economic and environmental driving engine of Central Texas.  Stop the dependency on excess water usage and give Austin’s residents a chance.

Judy Graci






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