By Susan Marx
Saturday, March 3, 2012
TWDB Votes to Increase Groundwater Pumping in the Texas Hill Country
Jacob’s Well Special Groundwater Management Area Proposed
By Susan Marx
By Susan Marx
The March 1st board meeting of the Texas Water Development Board in Austin drew a large crowd at the Stephen F. Austin building downtown. Many came to speak in opposition to the 30 ft. decline or so called Desire Future Condition(DFC) of the Trinity Aquifer in Western Hays County and to support the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association’s request for developing a ‘Special Groundwater Management Area” (SGMA) for Jacob’s Well and the Wimberley Valley.
WVWA’s Executive Director David Baker had 10 minutes to make the final appeal to the board to advocate for a policy of sustainable management of the Trinity Aquifer. Since the TWDB staff recommended the board find the DFC “reasonable” in its Jan. 25 report, Baker used his time to ask the board to recommend a SGMA or groundwater management zone for Jacob’s Well. He said, “The flow of that spring is vital to the economic future and survival of the Wimberley Valley. By recommending a SGMA the TWDB can save Jacob’s Well which is in danger of becoming a memory and drying up, like Comanche Springs in Fort Stockton.”
TWDB’s lead counsel Joe Reynolds conducted the DFC hearing in Wimberley last November and was one of the key staff members addressing the board on Thursday. Reynolds said creating a SGMA was not on the agenda and advised the board not to make any recommendation on it. Reynolds also said the local groundwater districts already have the authority to create SGMAs. It’s up to the Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) to manage Wimberley’s water.
Blanco-Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District general manager and GMA-9 Coordinator Ron Feisler said, “GMA-9 is willing to have discussions to consider a SGMA in Wimberley.” However, he added that the GMA’s focus is regional and a SGMA is something to be handled at the local level, with the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. He also said, “I see no way the TWDB can make a recommendation for a SGMA for Wimberley today.”
Larry French, Director of Groundwater for the TWDB, agreed with Reynolds. When the board asked if the DFC threatens Wimberley, French said the 19 ft. drawdown expected to occur in western Hays County “could” negatively impact Jacob’s Well. The board then asked French if Jacob’s Well had gone “dry” before and French said yes but argued that the 30 ft DFC allows for what’s already on the ground and provides a margin for growth in the area.
Baker reserved a few minutes of his time for rebuttal and used it to explain that Jacob’s Well had stopped flowing for the first time in history in June of 2000.It withstood and continued to flow even during the “Drought of Record” in the1950s. The well has since ceased to flow two more times; in 2009 and 2011. Baker said, “Aqua Texas’ pumping, a proposed new golf course and an intense growing demand from development has significantly lowered water levels. Just two feet of aquifer draw down will stop Jacob’s Well and Cypress Creek from flowing.”Baker pleaded with the board to provide leadership to protect the property rights and the economy of Wimberley by finding the 30 ft DFC “unreasonable” or to at least take the “minimal but necessary action” of recommending a SGMA for Wimberley.
While the TWDB position on the issue was expected, it was disappointing to the WVWA supporters, especially in light of the monthly drought report which immediately preceded WVWA’s testimony. In that report, TWDB staff hydrologist Mark Wentzel said,“January 2012 set the lowest reservoir storage record since 1978. The levels in16 of 17 wells are down from last year.” NOAA’s prediction for rainfall isn’t good either. The weakening “La Nina” is expected to persist until at least May.There is hope for more rainfall then but the western portion of the state remains in extreme drought and is likely to remain that way.
Public comments were limited to three minutes per speaker. HTGCD board member Ed Pope spoke in support of creating a SGMA for Wimberley that is tied to spring flow. “A special groundwater management area is an innovative approach,” Pope said.Wimberley’s Mayor Pro-tem Steve Thurber said the city had adopted a resolution in support of a SGMA and read that resolution into the record. Hays County Pct.3 Commissioner Will Conley said, “The groundwater in our area is strained. It’s going to take innovative and collaborative approaches and many tools to manage it.”
Conley also said that Hays County has invested $7 million in the Blue Hole Regional Park and Jacob’s Well. He added that Hays County is not just one of the fastest growing counties in Texas, it’s one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. “We need resources to manage groundwater,” he said and asked that a SGMA for Wimberley be placed on a future agenda.
Testimony in favor of creating a SGMA for Wimberley continued for an hour and included residents of Wimberley, Bandera, Spicewood Springs and San Marcos. HTGCD President Jimmy Skipton and its treasurer Mark Key both said they were happy to consider a SGMA for Wimberley but that most of the pumping comes from exempt wells and they can’t stop it. Others argued,however, that because most of the water use in Wimberley is from exempt wells that’s all the more reason to have a more conservative DFC in the Jacob’s Well recharge area.
Save Our Springs Alliance Chairman Dick Kallerman said, “During drought the Blanco River recharges Barton Springs. If the springs along the river are allowed to go dry, it will significantly impact Barton Springs.” Kallerman called the 30ft DFC “risky” and asked the board not to approve it. Kirk Holland, General Manager of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Groundwater Conservation District,suggested that GMA-9 consider establishing management zones within its boundaries to address special hydrologic conditions like Wimberley.
The TWDB announced that what they decide is a recommendation only. They do not have the authority to enforce it. The board asked counsel what is authorized understate law and who is responsible. Ken Petersen, general counsel for the TWDB,said management is a choice of the GCDs and that creating a SGMA is a rulemaking process done by the local district.
Board member Thomas Weir Labatt encouraged citizens to work with the HTGCD to begin the SGMA process at the local level. This raised some laughter from the crowd.Unfortunately, Labatt continued, “There is no protection for groundwater at the state level.” He said he believes the legislature needs to look at a process for appeals for cases like Jacob’s Well. “Water is a finite resource with a growing population.”
TWDB board member Lewis McMahan applauded the stakeholders for speaking out and working to create a SGMA. He then made a motion to approve the DFC as“reasonable” the motion was seconded and the board voted unanimously to approve it with no recommendation for a SGMA in Wimberley.
For now, the future of Jacob’s Well and the drinking water supply of our region depends largely on how our locally elected Groundwater Conservation District manages the aquifer. But it is also a call to action for individual well owners to use their water wisely. The TWDB vote marks the end of a seven-year planning process to establish a Desired Future Condition for aquifers in GMA-9, a process that will be up for review again in 2015.