The Failed LCRA-SAWS Water Transfer Project and Protection of Commercial Investments

The City of San Antonio has been one of the fastest growing urban areas in the United States for over a decade, and providing water security for the city has required the development of new water supplies. The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) was historically dependent on groundwater supplies from the Edwards Aquifer, but has sought to diversify its water asset portfolio through conjunctive use of imported surface water and groundwater supplies. One of those efforts involved an agreement with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), under which SAWS would fund certain agricultural conservation and groundwater development projects in the Colorado River Basin and in exchange would receive a portion of the conserved water for up to 80 years. The proposed transaction was similar to large agricultural conservation-based transfers from the Imperial Valley to San Diego, California and from northern Victoria to Melbourne, Australia in recent years. Unlike those transfers, however, the proposed LCRA-SAWS transaction faltered before it even began.

Drought to Persist in Southern US

On February 10, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new maps showing drought conditions across the southeastern US. States that are experiencing particular drought include Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida. In all of these states except Arkansas, drought is expected to persist or worsen over the spring of 2011 and possibly beyond.Combined with the drought and possible effects of climate change are demographic and regulatory challenges facing water supplies, including population growth in the Texaplex cities (Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio) and litigation in federal court that is limiting access by metropolitan Atlanta to Lake Lanier.

These challenges collectively mean that the southeastern states, which only recently emerged from a multi-year drought, will need to continue developing their physical, institutional and legal infrastructure for water supplies. There is likely to be appropriate emphasis on water use efficiency, recycling, desalination, conjunctive use and interbasin transfers. Texas, Georgia and Florida are likely to be the most active. Texas has the clearest path, while both Georgia and Florida are tied up in interstate stream litigation with Alabama. Water resource managers and strategic advisors certainly are living in interesting times.

New Georgia Rules on Interbasin Water Transfers

On January 26, 2011, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) adopted new rules governing surface water withdrawal permits that involve interbasin transfers. The rules are the latest and perhaps, for the moment, final step in the development of state water policy regarding interbasin transfers. The new rules will be effective in February 2011 and will be found in the Rules and Regulations of the State of Georgia, Rule 391-3-6-.07.

National Water Policy in Australia

In my last post I promised a report on water in Australia, and now that I have returned from the trip (OK, a couple weeks ago, but I had work to do!), this is the first of hopefully several posts. It was a great tour; I met many wonderful people and learned much.

The Water-Energy Connection

There has been no drought of studies, articles and blog posts about the connection between water and energy in the past 2-3 years (e.g., see recent Special Report on Water vs. Energy by IEEE Spectrum), but I would like to add a few thoughts to what is still an emerging area. It is perhaps fitting that I am posting this from the Washington Dulles airport, in town for a water policy conference, since it was from right here in the airport last December that I launched the PrivateWaterLaw Blog.

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