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Page Three: Clear as Water

And as simple as 1, 2, 3?

By Nick Barbaro, Fri., Sept. 25, 2009

Consider the summer we've just lived through, and answer the following simple question. Since the events of the last weeks and months have made it abundantly clear that:

1) There's not enough water in Central Texas for the Austin Water Utility to run its existing water treatment plants at anywhere near their full capacities; and

2) (as in Stage 2 water restrictions) The Austin citizenry has demonstrated that it is willing and able to cut its fresh water consumption to well below that level when called upon to do so;

then,

3) Can we finally, at long last, once and for all, drive a stake into the living dead of a boondoggle known as Water Treatment Plant No. 4?

While Lee Leffingwell continues to fight a touching rearguard action defending the long-discredited AWU usage projections as the only "credible" forecast, events have long since overtaken them and him. Our mayor would have us believe that the demand for water is going to continue to increase at a fixed rate for the foreseeable future, with no break. Never mind that the water utility's own figures don't support that. Never mind that others, on and off the council dais, have shown that's not in fact the trend. Never mind that the AWU figures fly in the face of federal and state guidelines. Never mind that most every other city in Texas has managed to reduce its water use to a level well below our own (and San Antonio is aiming for a rate 35% below our current use).

Never mind all that. The simple fact is this: We don't have enough water to run our current plants at full capacity. And we never will.

This summer's drought is no anomaly. We can increase our water treatment capacity – we can double it, as AWU wants to do – but there isn't going to be that much water available to treat. That's the cause of the current water restrictions: not treatment capacity, but resource shortage. That's a fact that's here to stay, and a billion-dollar construction project won't help the problem one bit. When there's a gasoline shortage, do you fix it by replacing gas pumps with ones that run twice as fast? No, I don't think so, but that's what AWU wants to do. And they want a billion of your dollars to do it. Enough is enough. Kill it.

(And, while we're at it, let me add this niggling budgetary note: I know that Randi Shade and the other "yes" votes hedged their bets and pledged "only" $6.4 million more to this white elephant last month, but if we're not actually going to build it, perhaps council could put a stop-payment on the $6.4 million they voted into next year's budget to start up the bulldozers, "just in case." I know it's just a nominal fraction of the $100 million that's been wasted on WTP4 to date – or of the billion-dollar full price tag – but still, it is enough money to cover all the budget cuts that were contemplated for parks, libraries, watershed protection, and human resources and still have a cool million left over. Just sayin'.)

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