To accommodate the expected one million new residents in San Antonio by 2040, with attendant economic expansion, the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) required a diversified, long-term, cost-effective water supply, beyond the environmentally fragile Edwards Aquifer and the operationally expensive desalination project. Drawing water from the Carrizo and Simsboro Aquifers, the 142-mile Vista Ridge pipeline provides an additional water resource while sustainably supplying safe and clean water to ensure a more secure future for the region for decades. One of the most challenging aspects of the project was the water supply location within each aquifer—the wells were drilled to depths from 1,600 feet to 2,600 feet deep. Groundwater at this depth has a temperature of more than 100°F. Due to water delivery requirements at the terminus site, a cooling tower was specified. The design-build team, led by Garney Construction, worked with cooling tower industry leaders to design and innovate the first-of-its-kind NSF61 certified open-circuit, induced-draft cooling tower.
SAWS reached out to water developers in the Central Texas region to submit proposals on innovative ideas to increase the city’s water supply without further reliance on the fragile Edwards Aquifer. SAWS reviewed proposals and made their selection based on feasibility, life cycle cost, value to the community, and construction duration. The Central Texas Water Supply Cooperation’s proposal, with assistance from Garney, was based on supplying water from wells in the Simsboro and Corizo Aquifers, treating it via a water treatment plant, and pumping the water through a 142-mile pipeline from Burleson County to Bexar County. The project would increase San Antonio’s water supply by 20% without having an impact on the Edwards Aquifer.
From a design-build project standpoint, the successful completion of Vista Ridge is remarkable—a landmark project for the nation. Vista Ridge crossed Burleson, Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Guadalupe, Comal, and Bexar Counties, requiring property acquisition and environmental permitting. Coordination and dedication were required among landowners, designers, contractors, utility companies, finance teams, and inspectors to successfully deliver the project from feasibility design to production in a mere 56 months.
The project also implemented strict energy efficiency requirements to minimize operational costs as well as reliability requirements, ensuring the water supply would be viable for more than 30 years.
The Vista Ridge project was the largest P3 water supply project to be constructed in North America to date. The project employed local subcontractors and suppliers and brought over 50 permanent jobs to the Central Texas community. The Vista Ridge pipeline allows for the economic expansion necessary to increase business growth and sustain current community development. The successful delivery of the project serves as a great example of how a collaborative project delivery method can help owners and municipalities across the country with their water supply needs.
The Vista Ridge project has won many industry awards, including the 2017 Water Deal of the Year (Global Water Intelligence), 2017 North America Water Deal of the Year (IJGlobal), 2017 North America Water Deal of the Year (Project Finance International), Gold Award for Best Utilities Project 2017 (P3 Bulletin), and 2021 Excellence in Construction Award of Excellence (Association of Builders and Contractors).
Other WCDA member involved: Core & Main (supplier of air valves and miscellaneous piping)
“The Vista Ridge project is a welcome change to years of overutilization of the Edwards Aquifer. The project has increased the water supply for the city of San Antonio by 20%. This is enough water for 162,000 new families and will also lessen the impact on the Edwards Aquifer during times of drought.”
—Mark Rose, Central Texas Regional Water Supply Corporation
“The construction of the Vista Ridge project is our core business, so we were confident that with our partners we could deliver the project and provide San Antonio the water it needs for sustained growth into the future.”
—Bill Williams, Vice President, Garney Construction
“Not once did we have to leverage the project’s eminent domain power, a definite win/win for all involved.”
—Weir Labatt, CEO, Central Texas Regional Water Supply Corporation