Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Group Formed to Protect Trinity, Edwards Aquifers and Springs


Group Formed  to Protect Trinity, Edwards Aquifers and Springs
February 25, 2015

    The Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA) today announced its formation as a Texas non---profit corporation created to protect these aquifers and their associated springs. In the process, TESPA seeks to bring clarity to the groundwater property rights associated with owning land over the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers and associated springs.

     TESPA was formed as a response to the attempt by a private company Electro Purification --- to develop and sell 5.1 million gallons per day of groundwater from the Trinity Aquifer. The Electro Purification project will harm adjacent neighbors who are totally dependent upon private wells in the Trinity for their water supply. However, the issues to be addressed by TESPA go beyond the dispute with Electro Purification to include more general protection for springs throughout central Texas springs which are the key to the survival of Texas’ beautiful flowing streams and to property values and the use and enjoyment of private property.

    According to Vicki Hujsak, President of TESPA and a resident of the Lone Man Creek watershed, “The Electro Purification proposal has made us all aware of how vulnerable our groundwater resources are. We all depend upon this water and we never imagined it could be taken away from us but it apparently can. We have made up our minds to fight back through the legal system.”

    “TESPA plans to focus its legal efforts under two key approaches initially” said Jim Blackburn, a TESPA board member and property owner in the Lone Man Creek watershed. “First, the Edwards Aquifer Authority has failed to take regulatory authority over the Electro Purification proposal and we dispute that determination based on the many interconnections between the Edwards and Trinity Aquifers through this fractured limestone geology. And second, we believe that there is a fundamental conflict between the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in the Day case and the way that the Rule of Capture works with regard to groundwater. These are controversial issues and we intend to pursue them in the court system.”

    Malcolm Harris, a Wimberley resident and Austin attorney working with TESPA, adds “The court system is an appropriate place for this dispute over the extent and nature of property rights in water. Courts have been adjudicating property rights since they began, and we will seek a court ruling better defining and protecting the property right in groundwater that the Texas Supreme Court undertook to affirm in the Day vs. EAA case.”

    In the Day case, the Texas Supreme Court determined that groundwater was the property of the surface owner even if they had not drilled into the aquifer and captured the water.  They also stated that they were applying the rule of capture, even though that concept, as interpreted in the 1999 Sipriano Case, allows the draining of a neighbors’ groundwater.

    According to Jeff Mundy of Austin, lead counsel for TESPA, “The neighbors of this proposed well are in danger of their own water wells going dry. If this corporation can drain 5 million gallons a day for profit, and leave the adjacent homes with dry water wells and people with not even enough to drink, cook, and bathe, who is next? When will elected officials protect citizens?”

    “The Texas Constitution is clear that the Legislature must pass all laws appropriate to preserve and conserve the natural resources of the state,” says Vanessa Puig-­Williams, an attorney and member of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, “but the Legislature has not adequately done so with respect to ground water in Texas, and now people’s private property rights are in jeopardy.”

    More generally, TESPA hopes to set in motion a protective umbrella that covers much of the Texas Hill Country. According to TESPA director Peter Way of the Cypress Creek and Blanco River watersheds, “These springs are the lifeblood of this country. Without water, this land loses the wonderful character that all of us love. Our long term goal is to develop and implement strategies to protect our groundwater and springs.”

    “Many springs in the Texas Hill Country, such as Jacob’s Well, are related  to water movements through the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers” said David Baker Executive Director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, an organizational member of TESPA . “This complex  geology defies the current regulatory system. We seek a more comprehensive view of this groundwater system and its relationship to springs and surface water. Sustainable management of all water is what we have come together to advocate for.”

According to President Hujsak, “TESPA is currently planning to file suit to protect the Rolling Oaks area immediately adjacent to the Electro Purification proposed project.  We are building an organization that we hope will lead the fight for years to come. The one thing we have learned so far is that we will lose this groundwater if we do nothing. We must fight for it.”


Sunday, February 22, 2015

When Will Austin’s Swimming Holes Dry Up? by Lani Alvarez on February 18, 2015

How Central Texas aquifers (and pumping them out) affect your outdoor recreation
For those of us who swim, paddle, fish, hunt, or simply just enjoy the flowing waters of Central Texas, no water means no play. While aquifers—those vast underground rivers—remain mysterious and unseen far below us, they have a huge impact on our everyday life. Not just for drinking and showering, but for recreation as well.

In addition to water playgrounds like Barton Springs, take Jacob’s Well in Wimberley, for example, one of the finest swimming holes in Central Texas. For the first time in history, the spring, which is fed by the Trinity Aquifer, dried up completely in the year 2000. Then it happened again in 2008.
Years ago, it would be impossible to descend more than two feet below the surface because the spring would bubble you up with incredible force. Parents would toss their children into the well smiling and without fear, confident they’d bob right back up. Some historians even say that in past centuries the spring would shoot as high as 30 feet above ground! This was all because of the strong aquifer flow.
But now, due to major development in the area as well as drought and overpumping, all we have are distant memories of the past and ongoing measures in the present to address water conservation and quality of the aquifer. Yet, even attempts like these don’t ensure protection. On Feb. 10, a furious crowd overflowed the Wimberley Community Center to demand that state Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) put an end to a commercial groundwater-pumping project in Hays County. The project is planning to pump 5.3 million gallons of water each day from the Trinity Aquifer and, for a pretty penny, sell more than a million gallons a day to the city of Buda. But action to stop the project remains to be seen.
People packed the Wimberley Community Center Feb. 10 during a town hall meeting with Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, to demand a stop to the commercial groundwater-pumping project in Hays County, but unless changes are made, the project could still pump and sell precious aquifer water. Lani Alvarez
Underlying this conflict is a critical issue highly likely to boil up in increasing frequency across Texas as water resources diminish and the population swells. “No natural resource issue has greater significance for the future of Texas than water,” says Dr. Andrew Sansom, executive director of The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.
Everyone knows rain in Central Texas is sporadic, unpredictable and, more often than not, infrequent. Now stop for a moment and imagine if we had to rely solely on rain to keep our rivers and creeks flowing. For almost two decades now, Texas has suffered under record drought. And as we already are seeing in many spots, some of Austin’s best paddling trails may become a lot less enjoyable in shallow, still water. Fortunately for us, aquifers capture and store rain and release water over time into our rivers, streams, and springs. And yet, such aquifers are threatened by projects like the one near Wimberley.
The view from a glass-bottom boat tour on Spring Lake, which is fed by the Edwards Aquifer. Lani Alvarez
“Think about Spring Lake in San Marcos and Barton Springs in Austin,” says Louie Bond, editor-in-chief of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. “All are fed by these underground bodies of water—all are in danger of drying up if we empty the aquifers.”
Even though the Trinity aquifer, which the controversial project is targeting, may seem relatively distant from Barton Springs, it is intricately linked. The Trinity aquifer feeds the Blanco river, and during droughts, the Blanco feeds Barton Springs much of its water, according to Nico Hauwert, senior hydrogeologist for the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department.
To put this connection in real context, “If the baseflow to the Blanco river near Wimberley were to cease,” reported Hauwert, “Barton Springs could dry up in three months.”
Texas blind salamander: The only place in the world this endangered species can live is deep within the Edwards Aquifer. It is completely blind because its eyes are not needed in the darkness of the aquifer. Lani Alvarez
 All aquifers in our region affect our outdoor recreation. Swimmers, divers, paddlers, anglers alike—all are impacted by the water that is or is not in Central Texas aquifers. Additionally, there’s the impact this would have on endangered species that are entirely dependent on these springs, such as the Texas Blind Salamander that lives only in the Edwards Aquifer. Whether you love diving into a deep well of water or simply observing the wildlife around you, this is an issue that affects you directly.
So when will Central Texas water playgrounds dry up? It seems that’s up to us.
Here are just a few ways you can do your part to help preserve our aquifers:
  • Voice your concern about aggressive pumping. Visit and consider signing this petition. If you’re in Buda or Wimberley, or almost anywhere in Hays County, you may be directly affected by the current controversy over Electro Purification’s aggressive water pumping from the Trinity aquifer.
  • Learn about your aquifer authority or groundwater conservation district. You vote for your board members—find out who shares your goals for a healthy aquifer and who might have less-than-pure motivations for controlling how much is pumped.
  • Grow food, not lawns. Today lawns are the largest modern water wasters. How about planting some butterfly- or bird- attracting plants instead? Or food for yourself. When your neighbors see the wonderland you’ve created, they’ll want one of their own.
  • Xeriscape. Xeriscaping is a method of landscaping and gardening that utilizes water-conserving techniques. More than half of our fresh water supplies go to landscaping, so this method is highly promoted in drought-sensitive Central Texas.
  • Join a citizen science group, such as the Texas Stream Team, that is dedicated to learning about and protecting the 191,000 miles of waterways we have here in Texas.
  • Read up on other ways to conserve water, such as the Water—Use it Wisely website, which offers nearly 200 water-saving tips that you can download, print, and even share on social media.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

LCRA: Current drought worst on record for Central Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The ongoing drought impacting Central Texas’ Highland Lakes is the worst the region has experienced since the lakes were built in the 1930s, according to data from the Lower Colorado River Authority presented at a Wednesday meeting. Preliminary LCRA data shows the Highland Lakes are in a new “critical period,” drier than the 1947-57 drought previously considered the worst on record. The Highland Lakes include lakes Travis, Buchanan, Inks, LBJ and Austin. Lakes Travis and Buchanan serve as the primary water supply for the city of Austin and several other Central Texas cities.

Due to dry weather and the low inflow, the Highland Lakes’ firm yield, which is an inventory of water LCRA can provide reliably every year, has been decreased by about 100,000 acre-feet, to 500,000 acre-feet per year. And the firm yield could continue to drop, according to LCRA data. An acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons.

Six of the 10 lowest inflow years have all happened since 2008.

“We’re in a historic drought like we’ve never seen in our lifetimes,’’ LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson said in a prepared statement. “Even in these conditions, however, lakes Travis and Buchanan remain significantly above their all-time lows, thanks to smart water management decisions and excellent water saving efforts by our customers throughout the lower Colorado River basin.”
The LCRA manages the Highland Lakes and lower Colorado River. The river authority also generates power for the region and operates area parks, among other responsibilities.

On  Wednesday, the lakes contained about 717,000 acre-feet, or 36 percent of capacity. That’s nearly 100,000 acre-feet more than the 1952 all-time low combined storage of 621,221 acre-feet, or 32 percent of capacity. The revised estimate of the firm yield changes the amount of water available for sale in the future, but does not impact existing contracts, such as those held by the City of Austin and other firm customers, according to the LCRA.

“LCRA has water available to meet all our existing contracts,” Wilson said in a prepared statement. “The good news is the reservoirs are doing what they were designed to do – capturing water when it rains, and holding it for use during droughts.”

LCRA will work on expanding its water supply further, Wilson said, including the construction of a new reservoir near the coast. LCRA began building the Lane City Reservoir in Wharton County in late 2014. The reservior is expected to hold 90,000 acre-feet of water and be completed in 2017.
The firm yield is unrelated to trigger levels in the 2010 Water Management Plan that determines how water is divvied up among customers during drought. The plan sets out three triggers that must be met before the LCRA Board issues a Drought Worse Than Drought of Record declaration. Those triggers are:
  • 24 months since lakes Travis and Buchanan were full.
  • Prolonged low inflows worse than inflows during the 1947-57 drought.
  • Combined storage in lakes Travis and Buchanan at less than 600,000 acre-feet.
If the LCRA declares the current drought to be worse than the drought of record, it would cut off Highland Lakes water for certain customers and impose water-use cutbacks of 20 percent for firm customers. Current estimates show combined storage could potentially hit 600,000 acre-feet in May or June.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

PEC Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                              Feb. 17, 2015
MEDIA CONTACT: Kay Jarvis, (830) 868-4961;

PEC Board votes in support of groundwater legislation

At its Feb. 17 meeting, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors voted unanimously in support of legislation on groundwater production. The vote is a show of the Board’s stance on this issue, which is an important one for communities within the Co-op’s service area.  
The Texas Water Code recognizes that a landowner owns the groundwater beneath the land. It also allows for the creation of groundwater conservation districts in order to protect natural reservoirs against “wasteful or malicious drainage.”
By resolution, the PEC Board states that the boundaries of these districts are not consistent with the hydrogeology of Central Texas and that unregulated aquifer areas exist which are vulnerable to the commercial drainage of groundwater from beneath a landowner’s property.
“Well drillers are locating these gaps in water district jurisdictions and exploiting them for pure profit,” said PEC District 6 Director Larry Landaker, who sponsored the resolution. “What is happening in Hays County through the misuse of the rule of capture is tantamount to the theft of water by one community to serve another. … That volume of water could … create a serious economic impact to the Hill Country communities we serve. Economic impact to the Hill Country is economic impact to PEC.”
The Board called for legislation to establish the proper local regulation of commercial and non-exempt groundwater production in Hill Country aquifer areas which are currently outside of existing conservation districts. It also agreed to communicate its support to the Texas Legislature and specifically to State Representative Jason Isaac, who is currently working on legislative solutions to address this issue.
“Reliable energy and water supplies are essential for the homes and businesses of our service area. We must all remain committed to protect our groundwater resources for the future of the Texas Hill Country,” said PEC Board President Dr. Patrick Cox. “It’s in PEC’s best interest to support the best interests of its members.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

House Concert benefiting WVWA - registration is live


  Chick Morgan

Please join us March 21st for this fun evening of entertainment by Chick Morgan to support the water stewardship programs of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association. Only 30 seats available! “Jazzed For Justice” is the brainchild of the WUUHOOs (Wimberley Unitarian Universalists Helping Others Out). We are members and friends of the San Marcos Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, all living in the Wimberley Valley area. Our purpose is to support local issues of justice and sustainability, in keeping with Unitarian Universalist values. For this concert, we have selected the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association for our donations. Nobody has worked harder to protect this vital resource in our area.


Register Today!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Texas Tribune Article About Isaac EP Wimberley Meeting 2/10/2015 Hays Water Fight Portends Battles to Come

Hays Water Fight Portends Battles to Come  
Feb. 11, 2015, by Neena Satija 
 photo by: Axel Gerdau
WIMBERLEY — Hundreds of people packed a community center Tuesday night to demand that state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, stop a commercial groundwater-pumping project in Hays County. Not that there is much he can do to stop it.

But their wrath underscored an issue likely to flare up repeatedly across the state as water supplies dwindle and the population keeps growing: Texas' approach to managing groundwater is increasingly incompatible with the demographics and growth patterns of the state. And possible solutions are hard to find amid bruising local politics, deep-pocketed business interests and small-government-minded legislators.

If the town hall meeting called by Isaac is any indication, the fights will not be gentle. 
The community center was decorated with signs that read "EP go home!!!" and the cheeky, "They pumped paradise and put up a subdivision." Public officials and an angry crowd used the meeting to shame those who would profit from the Hays County deal. "We don't want you here. We want you to leave," said Hays County Commissioner Will Conley, pointing directly at Tim Throckmorton.

Throckmorton owns Houston-based Electro Purification, or EP, which is planning to pump more than 5 million gallons of water each day from the Trinity Aquifer in western Hays County, where no groundwater regulator has any authority. That's far more water than has ever been pumped in the region, and area hydrologists fear it could have devastating effects on the wells most nearby residents rely on.

Conley's verbal assault drew cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd. And a presentation from Clark Wilson, who is building a community of homes and hopes to buy EP's water, drew jeers from the audience. "Apparently, none of y'all live in my homes," he said defiantly, while people laughed at pictures of his planned neighborhood complete with green lawns, a lake and a neighborhood swimming pool. 

Throckmorton, too, looked embattled. "Our customers have come to us and asked us, can we come up with a solution to their problem" of a water shortage, he told the audience. "And at this point, we're not sure we can." Hydrologists who spoke before Throckmorton acknowledged that wells near EP's may go dry because of the company's pumping. 

The controversy has spurred residents into action all over the county, but especially in the Rolling Oaks subdivision, a neighborhood of about 300 families just a few miles from the proposed well fields. Signs that read "Save Our Wells" and "Stop the Water Grab" are planted in many front yards, and cars sport bumper stickers reading "Buda, please don't suck us dry." (EP wants to sell its water to the fast-growing city of Buda and new planned subdivisions in the area, including Wilson's.)

"It's been a political awakening for us," said Dan Pickens, a marketing executive who has lived in Rolling Oaks for 20 years. "What's the value of a home with no water?"
Pickens and his neighbors say their wells are already unreliable in the midst of severe drought, and they deserve protection. But on the flip side, some say, landowners also have the right to sell the water beneath their land for a profit. And that's exactly what two families in the area have decided to do, using EP as the marketer. 

"That is always the irony of property rights proponents, just to be blunt," said Russ Johnson, who represented one of the landowners who is selling their water to EP. "What really makes people bat crazy, and correctly so, is ... not everybody can share."

The solutions offered so far are myriad, but limited. Several landowners say they'll fight attempts to send the water pipeline across their property. And Isaac has proposed legislation that would give the Texas Water Development Board some say over wells in unregulated areas like where EP is drilling.
But that's unlikely to happen, said Brian Sledge, a water lawyer who lobbies for the Texas Water Conservation Association, one of the largest water interest organizations in the state. For decades, the Legislature has left local groundwater districts to decide who can pump water and how much they can pump, not the state. "I can't think of a better system," he said.

It's more likely that Isaac will be able to extend the boundaries of one of the neighboring groundwater conservation districts to include the area where EP is drilling. And Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, whose district also includes the region, told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday that she would support such legislation.
Still, that isn't a silver bullet. If EP has already started producing water, no district could retroactively cancel its ability to do so. If the district tries to limit how much water EP can pump, it's likely to end up in court. That means the district needs to have ample financial resources — and the Legislature is unlikely to have the appetite for giving local regulators any more power to tax or charge groundwater production fees.

A more practical solution, said lawyer Russ Johnson, is to start accepting the fact that some people's wells will be impacted. EP has offered a "mitigation plan" of sorts, which could involve paying well owners to lower their pumps if the project causes their water supplies to dry up. And the city of Buda, which hopes to buy 20 percent of the EP water, has promised to be a part of that.

But how much that will cost is impossible to know, because even EP acknowledges that the impacts of pumping are still unknown. "The effect of the pumping can only be known by long-term pumping and monitoring of the aquifer response," the company said in documents prepared for Buda.
That's a wild card for Buda, which may have to budget more for the project if mitigation gets expensive, said the city's mayor, Todd Ruge. "I just want a chance to show them that we are a good neighbor," he said of those who oppose the project in Rolling Oaks and elsewhere. More than 1,500 properties and seven utilities that rely on groundwater are located near EP's well fields, local officials say.

Donald Lee, director of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, said there's a much larger problem that needs to be addressed: growth occurring outside the jurisdiction of cities. The new subdivisions that EP wants to sell water to, for instance, aren't under the jurisdiction of Hays County or any nearby cities. So no one has any real authority to make sure growth proceeds prudently. 
Giving counties more authority to regulate growth would be a big help, Lee said, but it's not clear if that will happen anytime soon.

"Growth isn't unsustainable if we don't screw it up," he said. "But right now, there's pressure to screw it up."