In fall 1997, San Antonio Water System initiated a sensitive Land Acquisition Program (LAP) to protect and preserve the quality and quantity of water entering into the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. The LAP is a unique and innovative program established to protect lands that are predisposed to geologic sensitivity and possible contamination. The main objectives of the LAP is to protect water quality through the preservation and protection of point recharge features, such as caves, solution cavities and sinkholes in the Edwards region.

Other methods of protecting San Antonio’s water include the establishment of conservation easements and “fee simple” acquisition of sensitive lands. This achieves the goal of reducing the detrimental impact of certain land use practices on the Recharge Zone.

This program is tied to the Aquifer Protection Ordinance and the Water Resource Plan and is referred to in the “33 Mandates” as follows:

  • Aquifer Protection Ordinance No. 81491 appendix II, “Recharge Zone Protection – establish a program for permanent protection of Recharge Zone in undeveloped state, through purchase, donation, or conservation easement.”
  • Water Resource Plan, Section 5.2.2, Recharge Zone Property Acquisition: “This program is to identify, acquire and protect those areas on the recharge zone that are the most sensitive in relation to available recharge. It provides funds to acquire land in order to protect recharge water quality. The main objectives of the program are to protect water quality and to reduce detrimental impact of certain land uses by achieving a balance between economic growth and environmental protection. SAWS anticipates multi-agency cooperation and encourages funding contributions from other entities.”

Projects to Date:

  • Government Canyon State Natural Area: 4,714 acres initially preserved. Total acquisition cost: $2 million; SAWS’ contribution: $500,000 or $106/acre.
  • Davis Ranch: 804.618 acres preserved and conveyed in March 1999 to the Government Canyon State Natural Area. Total acquisition cost: $1.6 million; SAWS’ contribution: $750,000 or $932/acre.
  • Chris Hill Property: 394.39 acres preserved and conveyed in June 2000 to the Government Canyon State Natural area. Total cost of acquisition: $1.5 million; SAWS’ contribution: $250,000 or $634/acre.
  • Stone Oak Park: Cooperative effort between SAWS and the City of San Antonio to preserve 169.507 acres, preserved February 2000 for open space, including two major recharge features. Total acquisition cost: $400,000; SAWS’ contribution: $250,000 or $1,475/acre. Additional 74 acres donated by Rick Shelton for preservation.
  • Annandale Ranch: 3,057 acres preserved under a conservation easement in cooperation with SAWS and the Edwards Aquifer Authority. Total cost: $120,000; SAWS’ contribution: $50,000 or $16.35/acre

Acres of Recharge Lands Preserved to Date: 9,140 acres

Total Funds Expended: Approximately $1.8 million


Acquisition Tools:

  • Conservation Easements:
    Allows for larger parcels of land to be protected for less money. Buyers of easements often only purchase development right associated with the property. Easements allow the landowner to maintain ownership of the property and receive a tax break for the reduction of value associated with the easement. Conservation easements allow for all liability and maintenance issues to stay with property owner and not easement holder.
  • Fee simple Acquisitions:
    Outright purchase of property. Property is usually then conveyed to a nonprofit organization or group for management.

Partnerships in Acquisitions:

Trust for Public Land (TLP)
The Nature Conservancy of Texas (TNC)
The Bexar Land Trust (BLT)
Texas Cave Management (TCMA)

Criteria for Acquisitions:

The criteria used to determine which properties should be acquired was developed by the Aquifer Protection and Evaluation Division. Each parcel that is submitted to Aquifer Protection and Evaluation for consideration is evaluated on the following criteria:

  • maximum thickness of Edwards limestone on property
  • presence of streams or rivers
  • presence of faulting
  • presence of major features, Category status
  • availability and affordability of the property

Once staff has reviewed the proposals based on the above mentioned criteria, the selections are presented to the Board for approval.

Budget :

Funding for the Sensitive Land Acquisition Program is allocated through a portion of the Water Supply Fee.