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Hays County Water Planning Partnership wants LCRA to seek alternative to pipeline

Monday, May 22, 2000 by

Argument over whether agreement with federal agency is strict enough

Erin Foster, chair of the Hays County Water Planning Partnership (HCWPP), said Sunday that her group will hold a press conference today to ask the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to consider alternatives to a pipeline for solving the water problems of residents of the Sunset Canyon development.

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and negotiators for the LCRA concluded negotiations on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will allow the LCRA to build a water line down U.S. 290 to serve residents of Hays County, including Sunset Canyon. The LCRA board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on authorizing its general manager to sign the agreement in response to the drought emergency declared by the Hays County Commissioners Court.

Foster told In Fact Daily, "There is a Hill Country Water Supply pipe 1.4 miles away (from Sunset Canyon)." She said it would take only 60 days to connect a temporary pump to a new water storage reservoir at Sunset Canyon. "If this is an emergency," she said, "why aren't they doing that?"

The agreement would allow the LCRA to begin work on the pipeline while consultants do an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Bill Bunch, general counsel for the Save Our Springs Alliance, said he was disappointed that the LCRA would not be completing the EIS before beginning work on the line. He said the area's short-term emergency needs could be met other ways "without converting the whole region to suburban sprawl."

Robert Cullick, executive manager of communications and corporate strategy for the LCRA, said, the agreement with the federal agency requires LCRA to finish the EIS and to look at a "nondegradation standard. It's not the only scenario you can look at, but you must consider a nondegradation standard." A nondegradation standard would require that all runoff be of the same water quality as runoff before development.

"With that agreement, you've introduced essentially the SOS standard potentially to the remaining 70 percent of the contributing zone (of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer) that was not covered by the SOS standard," Cullick said. He said that the LCRA board will likely vote to award a contract for the EIS at the June 21 board meeting. While the LCRA is working on the EIS, the agency's water line may only serve "existing development," according to the agreement.

Jon Beall, president of the Save Barton Creek Association, said the agreement is "better than nothing. But it leaves quite a few issues unresolved. One of those issues is enforcement." According to material from the LCRA, "the MOU would place the responsibility for environmental mitigation on the parties responsible for development."

Foster said the agreement is similar to the SOS Ordinance "with one big huge gaping exception." That exception, she said, lies in the definition of "existing development," which includes "any area served or to be served by the…pipeline pursuant to an agreement with LCRA executed on or prior to the effective date of this MOU." Also included are platted lots on existing streets that have electric service. Foster is concerned that developers, such as John Lloyd, may already have such agreements with the LCRA. "So how many of these agreements are sitting there right now?" she said. Cullick said he doesn't think there are any.

Foster also thinks the figure of $4,000 to $5,000 for a residential service hookup in Sunset Canyon is inaccurate. She cited a 1997 LCRA study that showed an additional cost of $3.5 million to bring the line to the subdivision.

Chuck Sellers, president of the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corp. (DSWSC), told In Fact Daily he has been negotiating with the LCRA to serve his area. "We've been visiting with them on a consistent basis, probably weekly, to provide about a million gallons a day to the DSWSC. It would not include Sunset Canyon (but) it would include our current service area. It would take us away from relying solely on groundwater," he said.

DSWSC provides water to "about 3,000 plus people," living in about 1,000 homes, Sellers said. "The only thing that's worse than unplanned development is inflation. Both make communities poorer. This will give an opportunity for the city and the county and the state possibly to get together and to plan for growth in Hays County. There hasn't been a whole lot of planning. That sure needs to be done. And possibly with the restrictions on new development under the Fish and Wildlife guidelines…maybe they can manage growth better than just sprawl," he said.

Cullick said he expects the residents of Sunset Canyon would be served by a brand new company, the Hays County Water and Sewer Authority, recently created by the Hays County Commissioners Court. He said he expects the monthly water rate for that subdivision to be $75 to $85 per month.

Former Attorney General Mattox among thirsty residents of Sunset Canyon

More wells drilled, water shortage worsening

Former Attorney General Jim Mattox and his wife, Marta, have lived in Sunset Canyon for the past nine years. Mattox said Sunday that they have experienced water problems for the past three years. "The past year or so, it's been particularly troublesome, Mattox said. "We just deepened our well another two hundred feet," spending about $3,000 to do so. "We still have a problem," Mattox said. "You can't take two showers and run a load of clothes without the well running dry." Mattox said the well is now 420 feet in an area where many wells are more than 600 feet. New wells cost about $10,000.

When they purchased the house, "We were pretty well assured that the water supply was good and strong, and that our well was a good well. I think our well is a whole lot better than others. But the man said when you're watering your yard, you have to do it in short cycles…When we first got here we experienced water problems every once in a while, but now we don't operate the (irrigation) system. It just takes too much water.

Population growth in the area has exacerbated the problem. "We've had four or five new houses within a quarter of a mile of us and wells drilled in the last six months. If there's a problem now, I think it's only going to get worse." Mattox said. "As a practical matter, somebody's going to have to provide some water."

Environmental fund-raiser…On Tuesday, May 23, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Texas Environmental Democrats will be honoring Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and State Representatives Glen Maxey, Sherri Greenberg, Dawnna Dukes and Elliott Naishtat at Jovita's Restaurant, 1617 S. 1st St. For more info call Mel Landers at 444-5619 or Cecilia Crossley at 444-0956… Byrne chasing bucks…On Wednesday, May 24, Democrat Darlene Byrne, candidate for judge of the 126th District Court, will host a fund-raiser at Serranos Cafe and Cantina on Symphony Square, 1111 Red River St. For more info, call 322-4714 or e-mail… Get straight scoop on parking…The City of Austin and consultant Wilbur Smith Associates will conduct the second of three parking forums on Thursday, May 25, in Room 104 of Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th St. Consultants will report on the parking availability inventory and the findings of parking surveys conducted in downtown Austin, East 11th and 12th Streets, and South Congress Avenue. Preliminary recommendations to address parking needs in the three areas will be presented. For more info, call Liz Badger at 499-6415 or e-mail to… Fly direct to Canada…The first direct connection of Air Canada's flight from Ontario to Austin is scheduled to land at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at 11 a.m. Monday, June 5, and the first departure to Ontario leaves at 11:45 a.m. that day.

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