Thursday, September 25, 2014
Hill Country Alliance News 09.23.14
Last week’s “Water Crisis” event hosted by The Hays County Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development (CARD) drew a huge crowd and continues to create meaningful conversations about how rural lands west of I-35 will be developed. CARD advocates that responsible, sustainable development within western Hays County be concentrated along established growth corridors, ie: I-35, Hwy 130, FM 46, US 290 and US 281. They also recommend that the interior of Hays and northern Comal Counties remain at rural densities.
CARD’s intention was to bring people together for a serious and respectful conversation about serious water issues that will determine the future of Hill Country development.
The backdrop consists of simmering controversies such as the over-pumping of the Trinity Aquifer, the legal separation between groundwater and surface water, the importation of water from the east to fuel development along the I-35 corridor, and the failure of the TCEQ to create adequate aquifer protection in this highly stressed area.
These controversies coupled with Central Texas’ spiraling growth and the inability of Texas counties to contribute to significant land planning are the driving forces that led CARD to call this “Water Crisis” Summit and to lay the groundwork for future dialog and action.
CARD invited a panel of speakers to present their vision of the state of water to the public in Wimberley, Texas. The panel included Andy Sansom of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Hays County Commissioner Ray Wisenant, Peter Newell, of HDR Engineering (planning consultant for the San Antonio and Blanco River Basins - Region L), and SAWS’ (San Antonio Water Supply) COO, Steve Clouse.
Presentations relied on the suppositions that the I-35 growth corridor will continue to grow at an exponential rate without limitation westward into the Hill Country, and without regard to advanced conservation strategies and low impact development strategies that can and should be part of the equation. The proposal that SAWS and the Hays County Commissioner’s Court are presenting is to import at least 141,000 Acre-Feet (about 46 Billion gallons) per year, every year, from our neighboring counties to the east over the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. Landowners to the east strongly object to this volume of water moving out of their area.
HCA views water transfers as something to take seriously and avoid without full comprehension and assurance that the sending basin isn’t compromised simply to benefit another basin’s unbridled growth.
HCA also recognizes and struggles with the fact that here in the Hill Country (and all of Texas) we do not have the ability to practice land development/land-use planning outside of our municipalities or on a large landscape scale. The result is that infrastructure proposals such as these actually become the region's land-use plan by default. Every pipeline that stretches outside of a city, leads sprawling development further away from existing urban infrastructure. Who exactly will this new supply serve, at what cost, and at whose expense?
A prosperous Hill Country economy is achievable with careful planning and sustainable supply solutions. We need to embrace the idea that our growth needs must be met without over-drafting our resources - and that means financial resources as well as natural resources. Just as Hill Country ranchers have known for generations, this landscape has a carrying capacity that must be calculated and honored.
CARD’s leadership continues to provide the Hill Country with well-reasoned planning input and thoughtful forums in which the community has the ability to participate and make a difference. Their website is a valuable resource, and contains an event summary with links to each of presentations from the Summit.
WELL MEANING PEOPLE CAN STILL POISON YOUR WELL
Thursday night, I attended a forum in Hays County put on by the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development (CARD). I have good friends in CARD and I know they mean well. I also believe they had no intention of letting this happen. Nevertheless, I want to tell you what I think – me, Linda Curtis. The League of Independent Voters will have its own response to my report soon.
What went down is that local Hays County Commissioners, Will Conley and Ray Whisenant, together with San Antonio Water Systems (SAWS) Senior VP CEO Steven Clouse, stole the show peddling their respective plans to drain the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer and its deep Simsboro formation in rural counties just east of Austin where I happen to live.
The confusing blather of the Hays County Commissioners – which might explain why so many people just up and left before the end – had many scratching their heads. But it was the scientists on the panel who really got to me. They began with a conclusion. The conclusion is that our growth rate in central Texas will continue for decades, ignoring the basic truism we all learn in Biology 101, expressed in the graph below. We put this together for our friends in Austin who are choking on out-of-control growth and its intimate partner – unaffordability.
In other words, dear Hays County friends, we Central Texans are on an unsustainable path. But you already know this. So why was this perspective not represented at the CARD event? I really don’t know. But I think Hays Countians need to hear another viewpoint and some basic facts.
It is important that you understand that the projects being sold to you on Thursday night represent a virtual siege by water marketers and some municipalities on the aquifer east of Austin – the Simsboro formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer under Burleson, Milam, Lee and Bastrop counties. It is a fact that you cannot effectively evaluate the effect of one project on the aquifer without acknowledging the total projected pumping on the same aquifer.
It surprised me that no one from Hays County took on their Commissioners for using taxpayer dollars for a “reservation agreement” with Forestar Real Estate Group for 45,000- acre-feet per year, after the Lost Pines District granted Forestar a more reasonable 12,000 acre-feet permit based on a desire not to mine (and harm) the Simsboro. That’s almost 14 billion gallons per year compared to a little less than 4 billion gallons --- however, 4 billion gallons is estimated to serve up to 35,000 homes.
Hays County has no way to deliver, much less need for, water for 125,000 homes until maybe 2060! What’s more, ask the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District that represents you if they would ever agree to the amount of drawdown on your aquifer being forced on us out here east of Austin. (Yours is approximately 30 feet, ours is 200+ feet drawdown “average”, which means much higher drawdowns near the mega-well fields themselves.) I think the answer is likely not just no, but hell no!
Forestar is suing not only the Lost Pines GCD, but each of our volunteer board members individually, no doubt using Hays County dollars for their litigation kitty. Are these the kind of people Hays County citizens want their tax dollars supporting? I doubt it. But no one peeped a word.
There’s also water marketer, End Op, LP, owned by former Williamson County Commissioner, Frankie Limmer, a notorious good ole boy. End Op is trying to secure a permit from Lost Pines GCD for 46,000 acre-feet from the same aquifer.
The most imminent contract for Simsboro water is the Vista Ridge Project for 50,000 acre-feet brokered between SAWS and a consortium of the Spanish-based Abengoa Water USA and Austin-based Blue Water Systems. Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District (Milam and Burleson counties), just to the north and east of the Lost Pines District, has already approved a permit for Blue Water totaling 71,000 acre-feet that will be used for the SAWS project as well as for the SR 130 corridor, much to the chagrin of Milam and Burleson County landowners, businesses and newly arrived board members of Post Oak GCD who are just realizing that they’ve been had. That’s right. It’s the same aquifer that Lost Pines is getting sued out the ying-yang for trying to protect.
The SAWS Vista Ridge deal may well be inked on September 22, but it must be approved by the San Antonio City Council. This was really why I attended the Hays County meeting. I went there to ask for help from our Hays County friends to appeal to the San Antonio officials to put a stop to this.
If we, together, can bust the SAWS Vista Ridge deal, this will be a signal to the Hays County Commissioners Court and municipalities along the IH-35 corridor to take their foot off the growth pedal by continuing to enable real estate developers building in areas without adequate local water supply. If we unite as a region, we can do powerful things. If we don’t, the SAWS deal is likely to be the beginning of the end of groundwater sustainability for us all.