During recent discussions between officials with the City of Alice and the City of Corpus Christi over water issues at Lake Corpus Christi, the conversation took a strong tone, as Alice City Manager Ray De Los Santos Jr. said the City of Alice would under no circumstances negotiate under a "cloud of extortion."

Present at the recent meeting were De Los Santos, City Attorney Joe Torres III, Corpus Christi Assistant City Manager Oscar Martinez and an attorney with the City of Corpus Christi.

On Friday, Martinez said De Los Santos was certainly entitled to his opinion, but the City of Corpus Christi was in no way attempting extortion, and said negotiations with the City of Alice are ongoing.

"I can't think of any scenarios where the City of Corpus Christi and the City of Alice cannot sit down and come to an agreement on this issue. I see it as an issue that can clearly be negotiated and some level of concurrence or consensus can be achieved by both parties. I don't see it as an ultimatum, so to speak," Martinez said.

De Los Santos' comment was directed at the recently amended operational plan for the reservoir system approved by the City of Corpus Christi, which provides for a temporary water release trigger at 80 feet rather than at 74 feet, which would be below the City of Alice's pump capacity to draw water.

Section four of the amended ordinance dictates the change will expire on Nov. 8, 2009, unless the Alice Water Authority and the Beeville Water Supply District execute a new or amended contract with the City of Corpus Christi.

In an Oct. 1 letter from De Los Santos to Martinez, De Los Santos wrote there were several areas of concern regarding the effective and efficient utilization of the Lake Corpus Christi Reservoir. One area of concern was the Corpus Christi officials' claim that current operational policy considered input from the cities of Alice, Beeville and Mathis regarding minimum elevations necessary for pump station operations.

In background material provided to the Corpus Christi City Council members concerning the amended ordinance agenda item of Sept. 8, the narrative read that water supply entities reported 74 feet as the minimum water level for continuous intake operation. De Los Santos has requested official documentation from the City of Corpus Christi, because, he said, the City of Alice has been unable to find documentation to that effect. The Alice pump station in use requires a minimum water level of 78 feet to operate.

In his letter, De Los Santos also questioned the City of Corpus Christi's claim of reservoir yield sustainability at 80 feet, when according to their own background material provided to the Corpus Christi City Council, the city's Water Supply Model indicated there is little change in yield between the 74 feet and 80 feet elevation triggers.

De Los Santos went on to state it appears the administration is intent on manipulating a situation of dire drought to extort a new contract resulting in higher water rates during an economic downturn.

"The City of Alice, through the Alice Water Authority, and the City of Corpus Christi has had a mutually beneficial relationship for many years. We don't agree with some of the assertions that have been put forward by the City of Corpus Christi's administration, nor the methodology in which they put it forward. I clearly identified many inconsistencies with what they've said. And we've identified these inconsistencies with their own internal and external documentation, not to mention their own study that they commissioned," De Los Santos said.

"While we've had this relationship with them, and it's been fruitful, we expect that despite this issue at hand, we'll be able to work through it and come to an agreement, that will continue to be mutually beneficial to the residents of Alice and the residents of Corpus Christi that depend on the Lake Corpus Christi Reservoir for water. But it is important that everybody know that while the City of Corpus Christi administration may have concerns about the existing contract, we will entertain reasonable issues and concerns that they have, but we will under no circumstances negotiate under a cloud of extortion."

Martinez said there is no reason both sides cannot negotiate on the issue.

"I think that we're probably in agreement by that. I think that what we'll be talking about is negotiating several things. We want to negotiate what we're going to do with our operational plan in terms of the lake levels that we will have and what level we will be releasing for," Martinez said.

"(We want to discuss) such issues as pumping capacity and the rates they are paying under their contract, and what the true cost is. We want to talk to them also about the volumes of water in the contract, but I don't have any disagreement with his statement. I don't want to work under an environment of extortion. What we're working towards is trying to find some kind of reasonable point of agreement between all parties on these pretty important issues."

As far as the language used in section four of the amended ordinance, Martinez said he discussed that language with De Los Santos during the meeting, and said it was the city's intention to entice the Cities of Alice and Beeville to come together to talk about the contracts.

He said the City of Corpus Christi still retains the right to extend the amended ordinance, with or without an agreement.