San Antonio is one of the largest cities in the United States of America. It has a population of over 1.4 million people. It is projected that the city’s population will double by the year 2020.
The city gets its water supply mainly from the Edwards Aquifer. This implies that the city relies mainly on groundwater. It is approximated that Edwards Aquifer holds up to 250 million acre feet of water and that its annual recharge is about 650,000 acre feet. Pollution is one of the two main threats to the integrity and quality of water supply from the Edwards Aquifer. The other threat is over-extraction. Pollutants are usually collected and concentrated on the impervious surfaces due to urbanization. The concentrated pollutants are then washed into the aquifer when it rains in the catchment and recharge zones of the Edwards Aquifer.
This essay explores how San Antonio city has been addressing the pollution threat to the aquifer and the city’s water quality. The essay also discusses whether the city of San Antonio is being pro-active, or not, in defense of its water supply’s integrity with regard to pollution.
The main pollution threats of the Edwards Aquifer emanate from urbanization (“Pollution” par. 2). Urbanization is argued to be tainting the quality of the aquifer’s water through pollution with different pollutants. The main pollutants that threaten the aquifer include sewage spills, toxic metals, pesticides, and fertilizers. The aquifer is likely to be polluted by developments undertaken in the recharge zone of the aquifer in addition to areas located upstream of the recharge zone. These developments may increase the level of pollution of the aquifer. The pollution may emanate from disturbed soil that can be eroded by heavy downpours that are common in San Antonio. The muddy runoff left by such heavy downpours often ends up in the aquifer. Moreover, once construction is complete, an impervious surface is usually created which cannot allow water to be filtered by vegetation before seeping through the soil. This in turn increases the likelihood of a storm that washes various pollutants on the pavements. Eventually, the pollutants end up into recharge features and streams. Even though new developments are required to have in place structured controls that ensure removal of pollutants from the first flush, such measures cannot remove all pollutants.
Another potential pollutant of the Edwards aquifer is the increased number of vehicles in the city as a consequence of urbanization. The increase in automobiles implies that pollutants from automobiles have increased. Therefore, the amount of pollutants entering the Edwards Aquifer must have increased, too.
One more possible cause of the Edwards aquifer pollution is the increased use of chemicals for agricultural and household use due to further subdivision of land. These chemicals may end up in springs and the aquifer.
The increasing population of the city means that residential developments are on the rise in San Antonio, which contributes to the aquifer pollution as well. Specifically, sewer pipes often stretch over long distances. The likelihood of such pipes cracking and leaking without being noticed is high. The leakages of sewerage are likely to end up in the aquifer. For instance, a study carried out in 2011 established that several wastewater plants located west of Austin pollute Edwards Aquifer (Toohey par. 1). This was attributed to laxity in the issuance of permits and monitoring of small waste water plants. The study found that the plants disposed wastewater into the aquifer after utilizing it for irrigation. This implies that the water supply to the city of San Antonio is really threatened by the pollution of the aquifer.
To address the issue of developments in the recharge zone, many cities in the US designate such areas as protected zones. In the case of San Antonio, in 2000 the residents of the city voted to approve a bond measure that was aimed at imposing a tax of one eighth cent on all land acquisition. This measure was undertaken in order to protect the aquifer and allow creation of greenways within the city.
The San Antonio Water Supply has also been making efforts to acquire Government Canyon since 1993. The acquisition is anticipated to help ease developments on the recharge zone of the aquifer. Despite the efforts of the San Antonio Water Supply and other environmental groups to champion for acquisition of the unoccupied recharge zone of the aquifer, local politicians refused to approve funding for the acquisition in the 1990s. Moreover, the politicians refused to accept donated parcels of land that were considered to be sensitive to the aquifer recharge zone. The said land was re-purchased from the donors (Resolution Trust Corporation) and most of it has been developed (Peace par. 3). This implies that most of the Edwards recharge zone has been constructed on. This conclusion relies on the fact that by the year 1993 over 80,000 acres of the recharge zone of the aquifer had already been developed or were under development. Therefore, other measures need to be instituted to prevent pollution emanating from the developments.
To address the threat of pollution from the first flush of storm water, the city of San Antonio uses over 607 basins which are designed to filter off pollutants from storm water. The basins complement the requirement of new developments to have in place control structures that ensure such water is filtered off pollutants before being released into the environment. The basins are capable of holding water for 48 hours when they are in good working conditions (McDonald par. 5). For proper maintenance of the sand built basins it is required that they hold water for less than 72 hours and that they be not covered by heavy vegetation. In addition, the basins work best when they are cleaned and tilled regularly. This prevents sedimentation that can seal the basin and consequently result in polluted storm water being swept into the aquifer.
Other basins rely on filters, so they require regular inspection and replacement. Even though the city has several basins, it has been established that most of these filters are not well maintained. It has been found that most sand built basins are blocked by weeds and the draining pipes are also clogged. This implies that the city is not pro-active in ensuring that the aquifer is not polluted by first runoff storm water which often carries various pollutants. Thus, the integrity and quality of water from the aquifer is compromised.
Educating the residents and developers on the need and ways to prevent pollution can also help with reduction of pollution threat. Since the biggest part of the recharge zone of the aquifer is developed, people residing or doing business in those areas need to be educated on waste management to ensure that waster spills and automobile wastes do not find their way into the aquifer. San Antonio is not being proactive in using this particular mode of pollution prevention. This could be attributed to their sole belief that acquisition of the Edwards recharge zone is the best way of ensuring the integrity and quality of the supplied water. However, Peace argues that purchasing the land cannot be relied upon as the only way of protecting the San Antonio’s main water supply. She proposes the use of other measures that can reduce or prevent pollution in order to preserve the aquifer’s water supply integrity.
The integrity and quality of water supplied to San Antonio city can also be ensured by having a single agency to regulate the Edwards aquifer. While the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) could be the best option to do it, the agency has not been proactive in assuming the role. Peace attributes this to lack of support. For instance, she cites that a meeting convened in 2010 to contemplate the regulation of the impervious cover on the contributing and recharge zone of the aquifer was fiercely objected by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the San Antonio Water Supply. This measure could have reduced the amount of pollutants being washed into the aquifer, but was not supported well enough (Ruiz par. 2). This indicates that San Antonio Water Supply is not proactive in ensuring that water supplied to the residents of the city is of high integrity and high quality. A single regulatory agency manning the aquifer would also ensure that cases where some small plants are not monitored do not arise. Given that this measure is not supported by most stakeholders including the San Antonio Water Supply, city cannot be considered proactive in ensuring quality supply of water to the city residents.
In conclusion, the integrity and quality of water supply to the residents of San Antonio is threatened by pollution from the urbanization. Even though there are efforts such as those aimed at acquiring the recharge zone land, there is still much that needs to be done. The San Antonio Water supply needs to be proactive in the establishment of a single regulatory agency to regulate the quality of water and to support educational campaigns that can help in mitigating the pollution threat.
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