Things have been heating up in West Texas as Tenaska gets more and more desperate to find water to cool it’s proposed coal plant in Nolan County. Tenaska, in it’s increasingly desperate attempts to obtain water has been turning to back room deals and negotiations to try and cobble together the water needed for the plant.
These underhanded deals began earlier this year with the city of Stamford signing a water contract with Tenaska. The City of Stamford negotiated for over one year before it’s citizens even heard of the existence of this contract. Then when the existence of a contract did come to light, the City of Stamford rushed through a vote on the water contract within a period of a few weeks in an attempt to squash constituent feedback.
Sweetwater, a town that had abandoned negotiations with Tenaska in 2010, has now been back in talks with Tenaska to sell their water. This was beknownst to Sweetwater’s citizens until last month when the City finally released documents to the Sierra Club detailing these negotiations. These documents were only wrenched from the city’s hands after the Sierra Club submitted an open record’s request to the city.
The City of Sweetwater has been in negotiations with Tenaska for the past 7 months, without any public notice. Understandably, residents are outraged at the notion that Sweetwater officials have been bargaining away their water rights, without even consulting them. Selling such a precious public resource is not something that should be entered into lightly without public input, and that is exactly what the City of Sweetwater is doing.
The water in consideration is effluent, or “wastewater,” produced by the city. The term wastewater is misleading though, with many cities throughout Texas turning to wastewater as a way to meet water shortages during the drought. Effluent water can be used for irrigation in agriculture and sports fields. Some cities even utilize advanced filtration to circulate it with their drinking water. These are methods of usage that Sweetwater could potentially need to turn to in the future, should the drought continue or worsen. Economically, this potential deal is also bad news for Sweetwater residents, with Tenaska getting this water for pennies on the dollar compared to what local citizens pay.
Residents have a right to know why the City is considering selling water to a coal plant for dirt cheap, in a back room deal, during one of the worst droughts in history. Numerous brave residents did speak out at last week’s Sweetwater City Commission meeting, only to be ridiculed by City officials. The City of Sweetwater has accused groups such as the Sierra Club and Texans Against Tenaska of being conspirators about this water contract, but it is only because of the diligence of local citizens that these negotiations have come to light. This sort of attitude towards constituents is inappropriate and unacceptable. It is time that the City of Sweetwater come clean about its dealings with Tenaska and open up these contract negotiations for public input.