"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.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
District Targeted in Water Conflict
STATESMAN INVESTIGATES HAYS COUNTY WATER DEAL
District targeted in water conflict
Niederwald-area utility would be barred from using eminent domain.
report this story, the American-Statesman submitted Texas Public
Information Act requests for copies of all written communications
between the Goforth Special Utility District and many players in the
Electro Purification plan.
Goforth provided some
emails but is withholding many others, including all those related to a
13-mile pipeline critical to the project’s future. Goforth is asking the
state attorney general’s office to allow it to seal communications that
fall under exceptions to the disclosure law for attorney-client
privilege and potential real estate transactions. The office has until April 15 to make a ruling.
outrage has mounted this year over the Electro Purification well field
being built in Hays County, officials from Buda and the planned Anthem
subdivision — two customers of the project — have dutifully showed up to
town halls and round tables, subjecting themselves to the jeers of
But missing from every public
meeting has been the most critical player in making the project a
reality: the Goforth Special Utility District, a Niederwald-area water
provider that has the largest contract with Houston-based Electro
Purification’s venture in Hays County.
now front and center because of a bill filed last week by state Rep.
Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, that is designed to stop the project in
its tracks. The measure would prohibit Goforth from using eminent
domain outside of its service area, preventing the utility from
acquiring the right of way needed to build a 13-mile pipeline connecting
the Wimberleyarea well field to its customers along the Interstate 35
The American-Statesman in January
requested copies of all written communications between Goforth and
Electro Purification through the Texas Public Information Act. The
utility provided a trove of emails but is withholding many others,
including all emails related to the pipeline.
incomplete, the emails provided from December 2012 to January 2014
offer a window into the planning that went on for years before the
project became the subject of outrage in late 2014. The emails show that
water quality was a chief concern for the utility in the early stages
of the negotiations and that the company sought lower standards for the
water. They also show that Electro Purification was eager to move the
project along, urging the district at one point to move more quickly.
Purification manager Bart Fletcher wrote in March 2014 that “we need to
move forward as soon as possible on the pipeline. We would like the
board to approve the delivery of water to Goforth the summer of 2015
tonight, so we can get started on the project.”
timing could become a critical issue as Isaac and the Trinity Edwards
Spring Protection Association — a nonprofit formed by residents near the
wells, which plans to sue the company — race against the clock to stop
the project before it begins delivering water. Doing so, many believe,
could make it harder for Electro Purification to claim it should be
grandfathered into any changes in law that would govern the project,
which has found a loophole in Texas law that will allow the company to
pump from a distressed water source with little oversight.
wells are being drilled into the Trinity Aquifer but they are in the
territory of the Edwards Aquifer Authority. As a result, the authority
cannot regulate the project because it isn’t using Edwards water, and
the nearby Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District has no
jurisdiction because the wells are outside its territory.
district oversight, the project is subject only to Texas’ century-old
“rule of capture,” which gives property owners nearly unfettered rights
to pump water from beneath their land
— even at the expense of their neighbors.
Purification has contracted to deliver up to 5.3 million gallons per
day out of its well field off of RM 3237 between Wimberley and Kyle,
alarming the hundreds of residents in the area who rely on private
wells. Goforth’s reservation for 3 million gallons per day is the
The Trinity Aquifer is generally
considered to have poorer-quality water than the Edwards, which is where
Goforth’s water supplies currently come from. In January 2013, Electro
Purification sent Goforth a draft version of the contract that included
suggested changes, including one that deleted a clause that said the
water “will meet any more stringent standards reasonably required by the
Buyer to ensure acceptable total dissolved solids (TDS), salinity,
taste, and odor.”
A month earlier, Fletcher sent
Goforth an email saying that the company wanted to use the Texas
Commission on Environmental Quality’s water standards, not the more
stringent rules set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. A
hydrogeologist at Electro Purification, Fletcher wrote, “advises us that
very few water systems in Texas meet EPA standards but meet TCEQ
standards.” The executed contract uses the TCEQ standards.
a February 2014 exchange that set up a meeting for the Goforth board of
directors to taste water from Electro Purification’s test wells, Mario
Tobias, the utility’s general manager, warned that they might not want
to drink untreated water. Leonard Dougal, Go-forth’s general counsel,
then volunteered to do so himself: “I will drink it. If I survive, I
expect the directors will feel OK about it. So, let’s proceed.”
the end, the directors tasted the water and were satisfied. Tobias then
wrote to the company asking if it was OK to pour out the leftover
water. Tim Throckmorton, an Electro Purification manager, said the
company did not need the water but joked about disposing it: “Sure put
on the plants, that is expensive water!”
written statement Monday, Throckmorton said that his company’s
relationship with Go-forth began five years ago, when the utility was
searching for new ways to provide water to its fast-growing customer
“They understood they are required to provide
water in their service area, thus they were looking for alternatives to
providing for their customers,” Throckmorton said. “Electro
Purification and Goforth entered into a contractual agreement in order
to meet part of their long-term water needs.”
the Statesman requested all communications since January 2008, the
earliest email provided by Go-forth was from December 2012. Goforth has
asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to allow it to withhold communications
requested by the newspaper that Dougal believes are exempted from the
Public Information Act, including those covered by attorney-client
privilege and discussions on potential real estate transactions or
eminent-domain takings for the 13-mile pipeline.
owners along FM 150, a potential route for the pipeline, have received
letters from the Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam engineering firm, which
Goforth has hired to help it acquire right of way for the pipeline.
firm is attempting to negotiate for the easements, but some owners who
oppose Electro Purification have vowed not to give up their land. The
utility has not yet authorized the use of eminent domain, Dougal said,
but it may do so at a future meeting.
meeting is March 25. Goforth canceled its February meeting after throngs
of angry Wimberley-area residents began showing up to meetings of every
governmental body with a connection to the project. Organizers of
Electro Purification’s opponents say they are planning to attend the
March 25 meeting, which had been scheduled for Wednesday.
a message on the Goforth website suggests they might not all be able to
get in: “There is limited seating (30 seats available) in board room.”
Contact Sean Collins Walsh at 512-912-2939.