Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Neighbor to Neighbor News - Hill Country Groundwater War

January 27, 2015
A Groundwater War is Escalating
Every rancher, landowner, well-user…any Texan for that matter, needs to understand some basic flaws in Texas water policy as illustrated in this story unfolding in Hays County.

Starting with a fresh blog post by Vanessa Puig-Williams, we’ve assembled some articles, resources and upcoming meeting information to help generate awareness and encourage public participation.

According to a KVUE news post last night, State Representative Jason Isaac will be hosting a Town Hall meeting to discuss this gap in Trinity Groundwater Management at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the Wimberley Community Center. Read more from KVUE.

“Rule of Capture Undermines Groundwater Regulation in Texas”

“In mid-western Hays County, a groundwater war is escalating.  A private water supplier, with goals to pipe and sell close to 6,000 acre feet of water per year has strategically located a well field in an area of the Hill Country where the Trinity Aquifer is unregulated. Unlike the more recent groundwater controversies involving decisions by groundwater districts east of Austin to permit or limit the amount of groundwater being transported to the west, the situation in Hays County is different, as it has exposed an innate flaw of the rule of capture, one that is magnified in our modern era of groundwater regulation - the doctrine’s inability to protect a natural resource and the landowners who reasonably depend on it.

The contentious well field is situated outside the jurisdiction of the Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District and the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District but within the boundaries of the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA). (See recent Austin American Statesman article here). The geology of the area has allowed the company to drill test wells through a thin portion of the Edwards Aquifer formation and pump water from the Trinity, where EAA authority does not extend and where no groundwater regulations apply. Locals and nearby groundwater conservation districts are referring to the Trinity beneath the Edwards Aquifer as an unprotected “white zone,” and many are concerned that the water is ripe for the taking by water suppliers looking to sell water to support growing central Texas.

Without a groundwater conservation district to issue permits and enforce pumping restrictions, under the rule of capture, this water supplier can pump an unlimited amount of groundwater from the Trinity without liability, even if doing so causes the wells of neighboring landowners to run dry. And according to hydrogeologists, this is a real possibility. The fact that a corporate water supplier is using the rule of capture to its financial advantage has infuriated many locals, but courts have long approved of this practice.”  Read the rest of the story.

Vanessa Puig-Williams, January 26, 2015 blog post from the Energy Center at the University of Texas School of Law.

Over 300 people and numerous elected officials attended a standing room only groundwater conservation district meeting January 21st at the Wimberley Community Center. Community awareness is building.
A new website has been launched as to keep you informed on meetings and events related to Electro Purification and their water grab in Hays County and how you can get involved:
The Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency (HCPUA) has this issue on their agenda, Wednesday, January 28th at 3:00 pm at the San Marcos Activity Center.

The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) will discuss and possibly take action related the EP well field including options for possible annexation, Thursday, January 29th at 6:00pm. 1124 Regal Row in South Austin

Find a complete listing of recent and upcoming public meetings worth attending here.
The Hays County Commissioner’s Court will be forming committee to hold public forums to discuss concerns over groundwater pumping, particularly in areas where conservation districts have no authority, “in the interest of protecting private land rights while promoting public responsibility.” Read more from Hays County.
The Citizen’s Alliance for Responsible Development (CARD) issued an excellent community alert last week that includes additional background information as well as contact information for area elected officials:  Letting your voice be heard by those who represent you matters.
Hays County Commissioner, Will Conley stated in a recent letter to the community: “I, along with many of my colleagues, have discussed this issue with the groundwater districts in Hays County. We have asked that they get together and see if they can develop some reasonable legislation that might cover this gap in groundwater regulatory authority in our community. To my knowledge the groundwater districts are working together and will try to deliver something to Representative Isaac in the near future. This is a complicated issue that will warrant a tremendous amount of discussion. However I am optimistic that our groundwater districts, working with Representative Isaac can come up with a good solution. The rule of capture should not be the only rule that applies to a corporate entity with the intentions of commercial distribution of water resources. I believe there must be some accountability on this whole process beyond free market principles that will protect the private property rights of land owners in an impacted area.” Read the full media release issued by Commissioner Conley’s office here.

To put some of this into perspective, the production being proposed is 5.3 million gallons per day (mgd). Whereas the entire Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer District’s maximum allowable pump limit is 1.5mgd and the entire Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District’s maximum is 8.13mgd.
5.3 million gallons per day exceeds that being withdrawn from the aquifer for the entire county area. This massive rate could cause water levels to be lowered in hundreds of nearby wells, thus creating the need for pumps in the wells to be lowered or the need for many wells to be drilled deeper.

In 1985 Texas began a process to determine where critical groundwater shortages were anticipated and to designate Priority Groundwater Management Areas (PGMAs) as areas where Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) were necessary. In 1990 the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) designated the Hill Country Priority Groundwater Management Area. It includes all or part of nine Hill Country counties and these wells are just barely beyond the eastern boundary of the PGMA in Hays County. Groundwater Districts have never been formed in Western Comal County or Western Travis County.

Electro Purification’s test wells are 900-950 feet deep into the Middle Trinity Aquifer’s Cow Creek and lower Glenn Rose formations on Bridges Ranch. Electro Purification has characterized their well field as isolated from surrounding wells; however, the BSEACD has hundreds of well records in the same formation less than 5 miles away.

The well field lies near the intersection of FM 150 and FM 3237 just west of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSAECD) and just east of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) near Mountain City and Wimberley. As stated above, although this area is under the jurisdiction of the The Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), they have no regulatory authority over the Trinity Aquifer beneath the Edwards.

Image courtesy of BSEACD

Pumping production from a total of 15-20 planed wells is expected to peak at 5.3-mgd in 18-24 months. At 1/5th of the proposed production levels, the estimated drawdown of that heavily utilized portion of the Trinity Aquifer is 93’/year.
Area landowners are justifiably concerned and pointing to hydro-geologic evidence that wells will dry-up if pumping proceeds.
Electro Purification plans on pumping to fulfill contracts to the following entities located to on the eastern edge of the Hill Country along the I-35 corridor.
- 1mgd (contract signed) to the Anthem subdivision planned by Clark Wilson Homes  located outside of Mountain City
- 1.3mgd (council approved the completion of a contract with mitigation stipulations to be written in) to the City of Buda
- 3mgd (contract signed in 2013) to the Goforth Water Special Utility District.

“It's by far the biggest commercial pumping project in the area, but it won't be subject to any regulation because the well fields are in a regulatory "no-man's land," as some lawyers like to call it.” Neena Sataja, Texas Tribune. From her recent article “Groundwater Wars Brewing in Austin’s Suburbs” this quotes says a lot:
"That just really seems like it goes beyond the good will intention of the law," said state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who represents Hays County. "To find this area that’s just right outside of a district, that really concerns me."

Thank goodness this is concerning our elected officials and that they are thinking about the things like the “good will intention of the law.”

Read more and share with your neighbors:
Electro Purification in the Press:

Groundwater Wars Brewing In Austin's Suburbs
Texas Tribune, Jan. 23, 2015 by Neena Satija

Buda Makes Waves With Water Contract
Hays Free Press, Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:37pm , By Andy Sevilla

Buda Agreement With Electro Purification
City of Buda news dispatch, Jan 21, 2015

Firm’s Plan To Pump, Sell Water Raises Alarm In Northern Hays County
Austin American Statesman, 9:44 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 By Sean Collins Walsh

Where Will The Water Come From?
Dripping Springs News-Dispach Fri, 01/16/2015 - 10:00am by Ashley Sava

MUD For Water: Aquifer Pumping Increases With Growth, Development
Hays Free Press, Wed, 12/17/2014 - 12:36pm, By Andy Sevilla

Water Fight Ends in Rancher’s Favor
Houston Chronicle, By Matthew Tresaugue, January 23, 2014

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