"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.
Monday, March 30, 2015
Hay's County Struggles as it's Population Surges
CENTRAL TEXAS GROWTH
One of the fastest-growing counties in the nation is feeling the pinch as its resources are stretched thin.
crews continue work on the Green at Plum Creek apartment buildings just
outside Kyle on Thursday. The population boom in Hays County has
stretched its water, housing and government resources in ways that will
take years to address. PHOTOS BY LUKAS KEAPPROTH / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
sign along RM 150 in Kyle illustrates how the water supply in Hays
County has become a topic of concern as the area’s population continues
to grow. Local communities depend on a haphazard mix of river water and
homes go up in the Blanco Vista neighborhood of San Marcos last
November. Due to the scarcity of available housing in Hays County, homes
in San Marcos are on the market for an average of 133 days, according
to a Realtors’ association official. If no new homes were put up for
sale, the current housing inventory in Hays County would be sold in just
two months, according to the association. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2014
County residents gather outside the Hays City Store in Driftwood last
month to protest the controversial Electro Purification well field being
developed near Wimberley.
TOM MCCARTHYJR. / FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN
the face of it, Hays County’s population boom — its growth is the
second highest in the country among heavily populated counties — has
been good for business.
Median income outstrips the
rest of the state, with the average Hays household earning $58,651,
compared to $51,900 in the rest of Texas.
boom has stretched the county’s water, housing and government resources
in ways that will take years to address. The jail is overcrowded. The
scramble is on to secure more water for growth. A lack of major arterial
roads means too much traffic is forced onto Interstate 35.
And more people are on their way to Hays every day, many of them migrating from the two metropolitan centers it sits between.
Judge Bert Cobb said the cost of living in Austin is a direct factor in
Hays County’s growth. “The feeling that a lot of people have is, ‘Well,
if we don’t build it, they won’t come,’ and that’s destructive,” Cobb
said. “They’re coming here for all the reasons everyone comes here —
there’s space. As Austin gets worse, they’re driving them into San
Marcos and Kyle and Buda.”
Newcomers get their first glimpse of the county’s struggle to meet demand as they shop for a place to live.
is a severe lack of housing that is driving up prices while making it
harder to find a home in Hays County, according to James Walker, vice
president of the Four Rivers Association of Realtors, a nonprofit trade
group that includes Hays County.
“We’re a very fast
growing area and there’s very little inventory out there, particularly
in the affordable housing arena,” Walker said. “There are some
developments that are coming; they’re just not here yet. Unfortunately,
in the past, particularly in San Marcos, they haven’t been real
receptive to the idea of bringing in new housing developers.”
are on the market for an average of 133 days in San Marcos, and once a
home is put on the market it quickly receives multiple offers, some in
cash, Walker said.
If no new homes were put up for
sale, the current inventory would be sold in just two months, according
to numbers from the association.
Yet even without an abundance of housing, people keep coming.
to new Census figures released Thursday, Hays is the nation’s
second-fastest growing county with a population of at least 100,000. The
county saw a 4.8 percent population increase between July 1, 2013, and
July 1, 2014.
And the growth is not likely to slow.
nearing 180,000 people, Hays County could grow by 30,000 people in the
next five years and to 440,000 people by 2050, according to projections
by the state demographer.
Finding the water to serve all those people is a work in progress.
Waters for fighting
County’s communities depend on a haphazard mix of river water and
groundwater sources that have a spectrum of oversight. Working to meet
their growing needs, the communities are trying individually strike
deals with a variety of water suppliers, even as the county tries to
shepherd them into a unified plan.
issues at play with water — issues of private property, of resource
preservation, of population growth, of rural versus urban interests, of
patchwork regulation — are on display in the fight involving Electro
Purification’s groundwater project. The project would pump up to 5.3
million gallons a day to meet the burgeoning drinking, washing,
lawn-watering and bathing needs of a rapidly growing area along I-35.
company says it is lawfully pulling up water and selling it to
communities that need it. Neighbors of the project say it will rob them
of their own groundwater and that the company has exploited an
unregulated store of groundwater.
“We need to take a
stand against living unsustainably,” said Purly Gates, who lives in a
subdivision adjacent to the Electro Purification well field. “We’re
ruled by economic gain. We need to listen to the land. We’re stealing
our resources for private gain. We’re fouling our nest in the name of
But the Goforth Special Utility District,
which has a contract to take the lion’s share of the Electro
Purification water to serve its 5,600 connections spanning Hays,
Caldwell and Travis counties, says it needs the water to meet rising
Goforth, in a lower-income area, has seen a
6 to 8 percent growth rate in its area over the past decade, said the
utility’s attorney, Leonard Dougal. Going forward, “our engineer says
just expect more of the same,” he said.
Growth is at the heart of a web of issues facing Hays county government.
“The organism has to work as a whole,” Cobb said. “If you concentrate on just one aspect of it, you cheat another part of it.”
One piece of the puzzle is transportation.
have a transportation plan that would give the county a much needed
east-west roadway by connecting RM 150 to Texas 130 in the east and U.S.
290 in the north.
The proposed roadway could take
some of the congestion off of Interstate 35 headed into Austin and is
waiting for funding from the Texas Department of Transportation, Cobb
“Right now it’s easier to get to downtown Austin than to get to Dripping Springs from Kyle,” Cobb said.
Money problems also plague the Hays County Jail, which is outdated and overcrowded.
jail maxes out at 311 inmates, and the 25-year-old facility has sent
inmates to neighboring jails on and off since last July.
there is talk of building a new facility, county commissioners are
looking at the judicial system as a whole. Special courts, such as a
veterans court, psychiatric court and drug court, have been or are being
developed to save jail space for people who pose a bigger threat to
public safety, Cobb said.
The labor cost of those
who would work on new dockets is a concern in addition to the cost of
building a jail. A study is being done to analyze the needs for a jail
facility in order to not build too much or too little, Cobb said.
Like the other struggles that the county is facing, the jail issue requires action soon.
problem will only get worse unless we do something,” Cobb said.
“Inaction is a decision. We can’t afford to do that any longer.”
data editor Christian McDonald contributed to this report. Contact
Asher Price at 512-445-3643. Twitter: @asherprice