"Watershed News" will have the dual mission of reporting the work of our volunteers and keeping you informed of the issues concerning land and water in the Wimberley Valley. Together, we are all working to protect Jacob's Well and the waters that make this place so beautiful.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Texas Tribune Article About Isaac EP Wimberley Meeting 2/10/2015 Hays Water Fight Portends Battles to Come
Fight Portends Battles to Come Feb.
11, 2015, by
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
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
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
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."