Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Massive deal proposed to move water from counties east of Austin to San Antonio

Massive deal proposed to move water from counties east of Austin to San Antonio

Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority hoping to broker agreement that will also satisfy its own needs.

Hoping to broker a massive deal that would send water from beneath counties east of Austin in a $400 million pipeline to San Antonio, the general manager of a Central Texas river authority has asked the region's chief private water developers to convene in Seguin on Friday.

Bill West, who heads the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, wants to engineer a deal that would send more than 71 million gallons of water a day to San Antonio through a network of pipelines, according to a Sept. 21 letter obtained by the Statesman. The river authority and its water supply partners would have to put together a preliminary agreement by Oct. 22 to meet a San Antonio call for water.

That amount is roughly equivalent to the amount used on a daily basis by 225,000 average Austin homes.

The letter from West is addressed to Frankie Limmer, the former Williamson County commissioner whose company, End-Op , has been trying to get permission to pump water from beneath Bastrop and Lee counties; Terry Gilmore, a developer supplying the money behind Sustainable Water Resources , an End-Op competitor; Ross Cummings, who heads Blue Water Systems , which has won the right to pump from Milam and Burleson counties; and Lourcey Sams, director of marketing of the Brazos Valley Water Alliance , a coalition of landowners with water rights in Milam, Robertson, Burleson and Brazos counties.

In effect, they are competitors aiming to corner the water-rich underground reserves around the Simsboro formation of the vast Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which stretches beneath the counties east and northeast of Austin. Under the river authority's plan, they would lay down their differences to make money collectively supplying water to the San Marcos area and San Antonio.

For its part, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, which serves Buda, Kyle, San Marcos, Lockhart and Luling and is itself short on water, hopes to step into the role that the more powerful Lower Colorado River Authority abandoned last year, when it pulled out of a multibillion-dollar water-sharing project with the San Antonio Water System, citing water demands in its own basin.

San Antonio has long looked for an alternative source of water to the Edwards Aquifer, but, one after another, proposed water projects have fallen flat, ratcheting up political pressure on the public water utility to find one that works. This month, San Antonio sent out a solicitation seeking 26 billion gallons of water per year, starting with 6.5 billion gallons by 2020.

The solicitation of additional supply "is intended to supplement and diversify (San Antonio Water System's) existing and projected water inventory," according to the solicitation.
"If you want to tow an iceberg here, we want to hear about it," Chuck Ahrens, the San Antonio utility's vice president of water resources, recently said, according to a news release.
The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority thinks it can improve on the iceberg idea with the pipeline one.
"GBRA proposes to finance, construct, and operate the transmission system," according to the Sept. 21 letter.
The river authority would pay for the project through financing from the Texas Water Development Board, which already has supported preliminary efforts to put together such a water deal.

"The water supply participants would develop and permit their own water supplies within the Simsboro formation and then deliver such supplies to a common delivery point amendable to the participants," the letter says. "Each participant would maintain their respective independence."

Most of the water would be delivered to San Antonio, with "lesser amounts provided for GBRA customers."
San Antonio Water System "has been informed of this effort and has indicated an interest to review such a project, " according to the letter.

The prospectors need partners with deep pockets to pay for the massive infrastructure required to ship millions of gallons of water daily across the heart of Texas. Government partners are especially prized because of their high bond ratings and power of condemnation to obtain rights of way relatively cheaply.
But the region's major government water suppliers — the Austin Water Utility, Lower Colorado River Authority and Brazos River Authority— have generally turned a cold shoulder, saying they had plenty of their own water, or were examining other strategies, or were worried about the lack of regulatory consistency governing the pumping of groundwater.

The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority is an exception. Virtually all the water in its main reservoir, Canyon Lake, is spoken for, so to meet expanding demand, the river authority needs to buy water from other sources.
In December, the authority entered into a letter of intent to buy and ship 45 million gallons of water a day from Limmer's group. The authority's board has allowed that agreement to expire as the river authority and End-Op could not come to final terms.

The meeting Friday is intended to drive down the price for Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority customers because the river authority would be relying on more than one supplier, West said in an interview. Also, a larger project will be more cost effective than a small one, he said.

The pipeline, which West estimated could cost as much as $400 million, would probably be paid for on a pro-rata basis: If the pipeline delivered 100,000 acre-feet of water a year, and San Antonio took 80,000 acre-feet, then San Antonio would pay 80 percent of the capital and maintenance costs.

But the water developers face a challenge in getting permission to pump the quantities of water needed to make the project work. There is only so much water available in the underground bucket, and some residents and water suppliers in the counties to the east and northeast of Austin are mobilizing to prevent the export of water as they prepare for population growth of their own.

"What kind of economic forecast will we have over the next 50 years if we do not have enough water to support our growth?" said Joe Cooper, general manager of the Lost Pines Groundwater District, which regulates pumping in Bastrop and Lee Counties.

asherprice@statesman.com; 445-3643

Charlie Flatten
Water Team Coordinator
The Hill Country Alliance

Monday, July 29, 2013

Philanthropist, Geologist and Edwards Aquifer Steward George Mitchell Dies at 94

George Phydias Mitchell
George P. Mitchell, a Friend of Jacob's Well the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs, died  last Friday morning at the age of 94.   Mr. Mitchell was a geologist, an independent oil and gas and real estate developer, and a major Texas philanthropist.  

Mr. Mitchell understood the vulnerability and importance of the Edwards Aquifer to central and south central Texas.  He and his wife, Cynthia Mitchell, who died in 2009, were early donors to the Save Our Springs Alliance in the 1990s. In the 2000s, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell provided over $3 million in funding to help launch and sustain the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance and its member groups, including SOS Alliance and Wimberley Valley Watershed Association (WVWA). Mr. Mitchell with the help of his sons Scott and Kirk provided funding at a critical juncture to help the WVWA and Hays County save and protect the land at Jacob's Well, near Wimberley.  The land is now a Hays County preserve.  The Jacobs Well Spring is a critical source of contributing flows to the downstream Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs.

In more recent years, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation has become one of the largest funders for groups working to protect the Edwards Aquifer and the waters of Texas.  Mr. Mitchell's son, Kirk Mitchell, is Board Chair Emeritus of the SOS Alliance. Our sympathies go out to the entire Mitchell Family. 

We will be forever grateful for George and Cynthia Mitchell's support for protecting Barton Springs, Jacob's Well and the Edwards Aquifer.  Mr. Mitchell was the rare oil and gas pioneer who also understood that water and energy conservation are critical to sustaining a healthy planet. 

You may read more about Mr. Mitchell and the Mitchell Foundation at www.cgmf.org.                                                      

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

David K Langford honored with TWA Ray Murski Friend of Wildlife Award

“David K. Langford of Comfort, a longtime Texas Wildlife Association and natural resource conservation leader and proponent of private lands stewardship, was honored by the Texas Wildlife Association on July 13 with the TWA Ray Murski Friend of Wildlife Award.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Environmental Stewardship Urges Board to Stay the Course

ES Urges Board to Stay the Course

We have a simple message to deliver to the Lost Pines Board tonight:
“Thank you, you are doing the right thing.  WE HAVE YOUR BACK.
Forestar Group (USA) took initial steps on June 3rd to enable it to file suit against Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District (District) when it formally requested “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” from the District (Forestar letter).  We believe that Forestar is pressuring the Board to reverse their decision and grant all 45,000 ac-ft/yr of groundwater as requested, OR BE SUED.   
The District has prepared the requested “Findings and Conclusions” and will adopt them tonight (see Item 8 of the LPGCD July 17 agenda).  Environmental Stewardship has reviewed these DRAFT Findings and Conclusions with our attorney and we have concluded that the findings and conclusions, as currently drafted, more than justify the reductions in pumpage (or more) which the District has imposed upon the Forestar operating permit (see ES letter).    
Forestar will have 20 days after receipt of the “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” to request a rehearing or accept the permit for 12,000 acre-feet per year as granted.  We believe that, during this period, Forestar and others will seek to convince the Board to reverse their decision and find a settlement.  That is why it is VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU LET THE BOARD KNOW THAT YOU HAVE THEIR BACK and encourage them to STAND TALL AND STAY THE COURSE.   
We owe the Board of Director a tremendous vote of GRATITUDE for acting to protect our precious groundwater resources. But now they need to hear again from the People to reassure them that we agree with their decision and will support them as they go forward through the likely litigation necessary to establish their rightful discretion as guardians of our groundwater.  Please write the Board members, the County Judges, and your Commissioners and ask that they “stand tall and stay the course” in resisting the intimidation of Forestar and other water marketers who want our groundwater.    
Please use these links to write email your concerns, but more importantly, show up at the July 17 Board meeting:
Finally, we need your financial assistance.  Unfortunately it takes money to get legal opinions and to keep you informed.  Please consider making a generous TAX DEDUCTIBLE contribution today – AND THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU THAT HAVE MADE A DONATION!
See the side-bar below or click this link to DONATE NOW .

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Global Youth Peace Summit Walk for Peace and Bake Sale July 27th

When: Saturday, July 27th    9:00 am - noon 

Where: At the parking lot just before Blue Hole Park 

Suggested donation: $10.00 

We will be walking the Nature Trail along Cypress Creek just below Blue Hole.  

We will start at the parking lot of old Baptist church, where we will set up a bake sale.  

This walk is benefiting the Global Youth Peace Summit 2013, John Knox Ranch, Wimberley.

For information on the Global Youth Peace Summit, go to www.amalafoundation.org
For information on Walk for Peace, contact jstirling@txwinet.com

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Sustainable Water Plan for Texas

A Sustainable Water Plan for Texas 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Court to Texas Water Planners: The Law Matters

A recent Texas Court of Appeals ruling could result in some major changes in how Texas develops its State Water Plan.  The suit was  brought by Ward Timber and a number of East Texas landowners who challenged the 2012 decision by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to approve the Region C regional water plan. The Court reversed this approval after ruling that TWDB can be sued if it does not follow and enforce the law and rules applicable to Texas water planning.    
This result should lead to a more sustainable and realistic water planning process.

The dispute focused initially on the challenge to TWDB’s approval of the regional plan for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.   The Region D plan for Northeast Texas identified a Region C water strategy that conflicted with the Region D plan. 
The conflict centered on the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir, on the Sulphur River in Region D.   The Region C plan included the proposed reservoir as a long-term water supply strategy for the Metroplex area.  Region D’s plan, however, expressly stated that the proposed reservoir conflicted with its plan,  which included the finding that a reservoir at the proposed location would destroy  important agricultural and natural resources that Region D intended to protect. 

The identification by one region of a potential interregional conflict is authorized, if not required, by Texas law at Section 16.053(h) of the Texas Water Code.  If such a conflict exists between two regional plans, TWDB is required by that same portion of the Code to bring the regions together in an effort to find a resolution.  If that is not successful, the law then requires that TWDB itself resolve the conflict. 
At the outset, TWDB argued that it could not be sued for its decision to approve a regional plan because these were just “plans” with no immediate effect. TWDB  also argued that there was no interregional conflict.

The Court’s May 2013 opinion upheld a lower court ruling, reversing the TWDB’s approval of the Region C plan.   The Court held that:
·         TWDB can be sued for failure to comply with Texas law or its rules on water planning;
·         The TWDB decision to approve the 2011 Region C plan violated Texas law; and

·         TWDB’s definition of  interregional conflicts as limited to instances where two regions relied on the same water to meet proposed demands was inconsistent with Texas law.

TWDB’s deadline to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court has now passed, so the Court’s holding stands.  It will be an important precedent for future water planning efforts, as well as for the current dispute between Regions C and D over the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir.

The Ward Timber decision provides valuable guidance and benchmarks for on-going water planning efforts.  While the Texas water plan is reasonably viewed as a “bottom-up” effort, it has to also reflect the broader state interests.  It has become increasingly clear over the last few planning rounds that more state level engagement is needed.  As reflected in HB 4, passed this year by the legislature, state funds need to be spent on strategies that are priorities for both the regions and the state.  The state needs a water plan that reflects a realistic future and that can be implemented in a cost-effective and environmentally-sound manner.  
State level engagement can come in many forms, but one important avenue  is TWDB rules and guidance implementing the statutory requirements for planning. The Ward Timber case holds that the regions and TWDB need to take those rules seriously.  The Court upheld Region D's position that state water planning law allows it to protect its important agricultural and natural resources, even as the state seeks to meet municipal and other needs for water now and in the future.

TWDB rules can be used to set rational boundaries on the regional planning process, as envisioned by the statutory language in Section 16.053of the Texas Water Code.  For example, TWDB’s current planning rules seek to establish consistent methods by which all regions project certain future water needs.  If a regional group does not comply with these or other elements of the rules, TWDB needs to enforce them by disapproving all or a part of the regional plan.  The Ward Timber case holds, in essence, that if TWDB does not do so, a court could invalidate the TWDB's decision to approve the regional plan.   
Thus, Ward Timber case has implications beyond the Region C and D conflict.  While resolution of that conflict will likely happen one way or another in the next six months to one year, the other aspects of the Court decision can affect all 16 regional planning processes for this next round and into the future.  Given the lack of attention in past rounds of planning to certain aspects of the legal requirements, such as protection of natural resources and environmental water needs, the Ward Timber case may also send a clear message that all aspects of the planning process established in the law and TWDB rules need to be addressed in the 2016 round of regional plans.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Understanding House Bill 4

After several months of debate, the legislature approved and Governor Perry signed House Bill 4, setting up a revolving loan fund to implement the Texas Water Plan.  However, the proposed transfer of $ 2.0 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund (known as the Rainy Day Fund) to capitalize the new implementation fund will not become effective unless authorized by a constitutional amendment that will be before voters in the November 2013 statewide election.

But, HB 4 is much more than just a new loan fund.  In fact, it restructures the Texas Water Development Board and, contingent on the passage of the constitution amendment, sets up a complex new prioritization process for deciding how to allocate the new loan funds. 

And, as with any major public policy initiative, the devil is in the details. So, what does HB 4 do and what can we expect to happen over the next few years?

First, let’s look at what happens even if the constitutional amendment authorizing the transfer from the Rainy Day Fund, SJR 1, does not pass in November. 

The Texas Water Development Board will change from the current six-member unpaid, part-time board to a three-member, paid, full-time board whether or not the voters approve the constitutional amendment.  As with the current TWDB, the Governor will make all board appointments, in this case by September 1, 2013.  Under the new legislation, one member must have experience in engineering, one in public or private finance, and one in law or business.   The new board is then required to hire a new Executive Administrator by October 1, 2013.  It’s likely that this new administrative team will also begin to set their own goals and policies.

Once the board members are appointed, they will face some looming deadlines under HB 4 to get the new infrastructure fund up and running and establish a process to set priorities for using the fund.  But, these actions will only be required if the constitutional amendment transferring rainy funds to the infrastructure fund is approved by the voters.

If SJR 1 does pass, then the board will begin a fairly complex process to prioritize spending from the new infrastructure fund, which will be known as the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT). The legislation itself sets some priorities for spending, requiring that not less than 10% of the funds disbursed go to projects for “rural political subdivisions or agricultural water conservation and that not less than 20% go to support projects for water conservation or reuse, including agricultural irrigation projects.

Beyond these directives, however, the Board has the primary role in prioritizing projects for funding. 

Here, in brief are the steps set out in HB 4:

First, the Board is to convene the chairs of the regional water planning groups (RWPGs).  This group is tasked with developing “uniform standards to be used by the regional water planning groups” in prioritizing projects. These standards must be developed by December 2013 and “approved by the Board.” 

Then, using these “standards”, each regional group is to prioritize projects in its respective regional water plan.  This prioritization will be conducted for both the existing 2012 plan and, at the appropriate time, for the new plans now under development.   The draft regional prioritization for the 2012 plans must be submitted to the Board by June 2014.  The Board can then comment on the RWPG draft prioritization.  The final RWP prioritization is due by September 2014.

At a minimum, a regional water planning group must consider the following criteria in prioritizing each project:

(1)        the decade in which the project will be needed;

(2 )   the feasibilityof the project, including the

availability of water rights for purposes of the project and the

hydrological and scientific practicability of the project;

(3)    the viabilityof the project, including whether

the project is a comprehensive solution with a measurable outcome;

(4)    the sustainabilityof the project, taking into

consideration the life of the project; and

(5)    the cost-effectivenessof the project, taking into

consideration the expected unit cost of the water to be supplied by

the project.

In prioritizing projects, each regional water planning group is to “include projects that meet long-term needs as well as projects that meet short-term needs.”

But, the regional prioritization is not the final step.  In fact, it is only one factor to be considered by the Board.  HB 4 provides that the Board has the final say on prioritization as it relates to providing financial assistance from the SWIFT.

The Board is charged with setting up a “point system” for prioritization.  This system must include a “standard for the board to apply in determining whether a project qualifies for financial assistance at the time the application for financial assistance is filed with the board.”

The legislation then provides fairly substantial direction to the Board in what should be considered in setting up this point system.  Specifically it provides:

(c)The board shall give the highest consideration in

awarding points to projects that will have a substantial effect,

including projects that will:

(1) serve a large population;

(2) provide assistance to a diverse urban and rural


(3) provide regionalization; or

(4) meet a high percentage of the water supply needs of

the water users to be served by the project.

In addition to these criteria the Board must

must also consider at least the following criteria in

prioritizing projects:

(1)        the local contribution to be made to finance the

project, including the up-front capital to be provided by the


(2)        the financial capacity of the applicant to repay

the financial assistance provided;

(3)        the ability of the board and the applicant to

timely leverage state financing with local and federal funding;

(4)        whether there is an emergency need for the

project, taking into consideration whether:

(A)the applicant is included at the time of the

application on the list maintained by the commission of local

public water systems that have a water supply that will last less

than 180 days without additional rainfall; and

(B)federal funding for which the project is

eligible has been used or sought;

… whether the applicant is ready to proceed with the project at the time of the application, including whether:

(A)        all preliminary planning and design work

associated with the project has been completed;

(B)        the applicant has acquired the water rights

associated with the project;

(C)        the applicant has secured funding for the

project from other sources; and

(D)        the applicant is able to begin implementing

or constructing the project;

(5)        the demonstrated or projected effect of the

project on water conservation, including preventing the loss of

water, taking into consideration, if applicable, whether the

applicant has filed a water audit with the board … that demonstrates that the applicant is accountable with regard to reducing water loss and increasing efficiency in the distribution of water; and

(6)        the priority given the project by the applicable

regional water planning group….

The Board will also have to consider comments from the SWIFT Advisory Committee created by HB 4.  This committee will be made up of the Comptroller, three senators appointed by the Lt. Governor and three representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House. 

House Bill 4 does not set a date by which the Board must complete the point system for administering the SWIFT, but it is unlikely to happen before September 2014, when the regional prioritizations of the 2012 plans are to be finalized.  By that time, of course, the current round of planning will be well underway and a new session of the legislature will be just around the corner.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Neighbor to Neighbor News July 9, 2013

Neighbor to Neighbor News Pass it on...                    
July 9, 2013
Hill Country News
A Sustainable Water Plan for Texas
As with any major public policy initiative, the devil is in the details. So, what does HB 4 do and what can we expect to happen over the next few years? More from Texas Center for Policy Studies here.
American Farmland Trust’s I Love My Farmers Market Celebration
Many family farmers are struggling to stay financially afloat and face pressure from development that is destroying farmland. Farms closest to America’s cities—often the providers of the delicious local food found at farmers markets—are directly in the path of destruction. AFT’s I Love My Farmers Market Celebration is raising national awareness about local farmers markets and putting money directly in the pockets of family farmers. Check out the Fredericksburg Farmer’s Market every Thursday – a fantastic Hill Country example.
Protect bats and the aquifer
Like the bats of Bracken, the Edwards Aquifer is an elegant natural phenomenon that provides incomparable and irreplaceable services to the denizens of our region. The Edwards Aquifer is due all the protection that we can offer in policy and regulation. Read more from Annalisa Peace as published in the SA Express-News. Learn more about Bracken Cave and Bat Conservation from BCI, here.
Drinking Water Infrastructure: Who Pays and How (And for What?)
As Texans consider investments in water infrastructure, this resource from American Rivers is a must read. While consumers, advocates, and water utility leaders may recognize a need to invest in our critical water systems, the question is what sort of infrastructure we should build to meet the needs of present and future generations. The infrastructure of yore—mega projects to convey, store and treat water—is often too inflexible and too expensive to deliver reliable and cost-effective services in this era of extreme weather, climate change, and fiscal austerity. Read more from American Rivers.
More Hill Country Headlines

Through the river’s eyes
HCA is a proud sponsor of Yakona – “a film told through the eyes of the San Marcos River.  San Marcos film makers capture the beauty and serenity of the San Marcos River in this documentary film project.

Upcoming Events
July 31 in Boerne - Estate Planning in the Hill Country: What Every Landowner Needs to Know - Details
August 1 in San Antonio - AIA Presents 3rd Annual Sustainable Urban Development Luncheon - Details
August 17 in Austin - Workshop: How to Build a Rainwater Harvesting System from AgriLife - Details
August 20 in San Antonio - Sierra Club meeting, "The Inner Workings of the Edwards Aquifer" - Details

August 22-29 in San Marcos - 2013 Texas Groundwater Summit - Details
August 24 in San Antonio - Art for Water: Creative Conservation, an educational and family fun event in support of water conservation and local art - Details

September 27-29 in Fredericksburg - 13th Annual Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair - Details