Saturday morning at Tri-Point, elements of The League of Independent Voters, a non-partisan watchdog exposed transactions related to the SAWS Vista Ridge 3.4 billion dollar 142 mile long pipeline built to supposedly supply San Antonio with 16.3 billion gallons of water for years to come.

Several City Council Candidates were in attendance!

The Vista Ridge project was pained with problems from the beginning, including bankruptcy by the principle contractor, Spanish company Abengoa. San Antonio City Council had been warned by experts that Abengoa was on shaky financial ground as they had been repeatedly downgraded by Standard and Poor, Moody’s and Fitch for several years and that their bonds were no longer investment grade.  It was also noted that their liabilities substantially exceeded assets, yet City Council voted to move ahead, apparently based on SAWS CEO Puente’s encouragement that Abengoa was fine.  Puente later noted that Abengoa’s financial situation was known to SAWS early on.

During the thirteen months between signing the contract and completing the bankruptcy, Abengoa Vista Ridge, LLC, the entity formed for the project had managed to borrow 120 million dollars from four banks.  Supposedly these funds were to be used for pipe, yet the pipe has been non-existent.  Approximately the same amount was transferred to an newly formed a non-profit company, Central Texas Regional Water Supply, which then transferred about the same amount to a United States subsidiary of Abengoa. The subsidiary filed for bankruptcy protection under U.S. laws.

Of perhaps greatest interest was the information presented regarding the actual availability of water. It appears that permitting of water to be pumped seriously exceed the normal recharge of the aquifer and that warning had already been posted that pumping would likely need to be curtailed in as little as 10 years.

The League also presented “Pay to Play.”   This was a capsule of individuals and entities that substantially funded the fight against the recently proposed 3 Charter Amendments.  Their donations were paired with benefits received from City interactions, tax abatements, property purchases, etc. Of the over 2 million dollars contributed, by far the majority came from only a handful of donors.  It was noted that USAA funded 300 thousand dollars.

The importance of this presentation was that it crystalized the impact of only a few, who with their money were able to stop and defeat the very amendment that would have given the citizens of San Antonio a chance to reign in government waste and unpopular projects. In a case such as Vista Ridge, a highly unpopular project which has cause water rates to climb dramatically, through an amendment such as the one defeated, citizens could have forced it to a public vote instead of just a City Council decision.

It was really interesting to see the timeline related to City Council and Vista Ridge. Two entities, Vista Ridge LLC and Central Texas Regional Water Supply, were filed before City Council formally approved the contract. Guess who many of the board members were for the Central Texas Water Supply, the company that transferred over 100 million dollars to the Abengoa U.S. Subsidiary?

Following the bankruptcy, Abengoa was replaced with Garney, a former sub-contractor, yet Abengoa retained 20% of Vista Ridge LLC.

Watch for more from the League of Independent Voters