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Barton Springs district board

Monday, March 26, 2001 by

Worried about loss of authority

Local management big issue for districts

Local authority versus state jurisdiction is at the core of groundwater districts’ concerns over Senate Bill 2, the follow-up to Sen. Buster Brown’s far-reaching omnibus water rights bill of 1997.

The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer District (BSEACD) is joining the Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts (TAGD) in its protest over some aspects of Senate Bill 2. One of their chief concerns is the role of the proposed Texas Water Policy Council, which would coordinate planning among the state’s 17 regional water planning boards. Brown’s Senate Bill 1 created those regional water planning boards.

“We’re concerned about limitations or infringements on the authority of groundwater districts to manage the resources for which they are responsible,” says Craig Smith, president of the board of the BSEACD. “Senate Bill 1 said locally-controlled groundwater districts were the state’s preferred method of groundwater management. This bill seems to be a serious retreat from that.”

Language in Senate Bill 2 appears to eat away at the authority of local groundwater districts. Specifically, regional planning groups would be given the right to dictate the amount of water that can be pumped out of aquifers in the state, a direct contradiction of the powers currently given to groundwater districts. The Barton Springs district and others, firmly believe that districts should have the right to manage their own resources, based upon the best information gathered and available to the individual district.

“TAGD is proposing to make it clear that the districts have the authority to determine their own supply and demand, and that no other entity is eminently qualified to do this,” District Manager Stovy Bowlin told his board members at last week’s board meeting. “This is making sure we maintain our authority.”

Marketing water is the principle goal of Senate Bill 2 in its current language, Smith said. Groundwater districts, on the other hand, are also concerned about local needs and environmental needs. Senate Bill 2 will be heard before a Senate Natural Resources committee on March 27.

Groundwater transfer is also a big issue for Smith and his board. Under the bill, the current language indicates that everyone has the same rights to water, whether or not they are actually in the district. Smith says it’s important a groundwater district be given the right to impose conditions before an out-of-district transfer is approved. Groundwater districts, Smith says, should also be given the right to question whether the out-of-district customer has exhausted all other possible avenues before the purchase is allowed to go through.

“When we specifically consider the transfer permit, we have a long series of conditions that must be met before the permit is approved,” Smith said. “Under this bill, a district cannot impose any additional limitations beyond those put on in-district users. That seriously restricts groundwater districts.”

According to material from TAGD, the language of SB 2 regarding exports “favors the abilities of exporters to market groundwater to the detriment of the ability of local citizens to ensure a viable, long-term water supply.” Board members were also concerned that a proposed $1 fee for each county resident would be placed in a statewide pool for infrastructure improvement and essentially create, as Bowlin explained to board members, a de facto statewide ad valorem tax. The San Antonio Express News has speculated that many of the dollars would go to improvements to the San Antonio Water System.

Beyond even those concerns, the bill specifies that a transportation permit must be granted for a minimum of 30 years. Certainly that benefits those buying the water, but it gives no flexibility to the changing conditions within a groundwater district, Smith says.

The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer District passed two resolutions last week that apply specifically to its own groundwater situation. The first resolution defends the district’s transport fee of 31 cents per 1,000 gallons, far higher than the 8.5 cents per thousand gallons that would be set by the bill. That state-imposed fee would drive the cost buyers would pay for groundwater transfers. The BSEACD estimates that it costs close to 31 cents per thousand gallons to augment the recharge of the Barton Springs Aquifer through the district’s Onion Creek recharge project. Those calculations will be sent in a letter to Brown’s office to explain and defend the district’s fees.

The district board also passed a motion to amend Section 2.46 of the Water Code—which applies to out-of-district transfers—to add a subsection that reads, “the fee caps in subsection e do not apply to a district that has adopted transport fees by rule prior to Jan. 1, 2001.”

Father Bill Elliott,

Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church

By David Ansel

The ‘O’ in OMI stands for the Latin word ‘oblate’, which means ‘one who offers oneself.' This is an appropriate title for Father Bill Elliott, OMI, the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church on East 9th Street. The force that drives his lifelong and tireless efforts to aid his community is the practical message of the Gospel—that compassion is the path by which an individual seeks to improve the world.

“Jesus’ message is that you can’t love without service and you can’t serve without love,” says Father Bill, and it’s clear that he fully embraces this ethic. He uses it to fuel the 18-hour days that his position demands. Aided by an able staff and the massive efforts of the church laity, Father Bill leads by the example of selflessness and hard work. He counts his ability to delegate, trusting others with important tasks, as a key to his effectiveness.

Father Bill describes a level of involvement of the laity is truly astonishing. Over six hundred parishioners live out their baptismal promises to work in nearly sixty ministries, each of which reach out to different segments of the East Austin community. The health services—including colon and breast cancer screening, blood pressure and eye health tests, even post-abortion syndrome counseling—are far-reaching. Employment services are many, such as summer jobs for youth and Capital Idea, an extensive job-training program. St. Vincent de Paul’s clothing bank even offers help with dressing for work. Add the scholarships, transitional homes, immigration activism, charity breakfasts, and leadership in Central East Austin development, and Our Lady of Guadalupe can clearly be seen as an indispensable part of the community.

But there is no issue closer to Father Bill’s heart than that of affordable housing. He grew up in the poor section of St. John, New Brunswick, and watched as the neighborhood his father had helped to build was bulldozed and replaced with hotels and car lots. His father had put 45 years of his life into that neighborhood, and through eminent domain reaped a reward of $11,000. He died six months later.

Having borne witness to the havoc that development and gentrification wreaks upon communities, Father Bill has taken up the fight to preserve the community fabric of East Austin. In his opinion, “If you protect the edge communities, you protect downtown.” To that end, in his work with Habitat for Humanity and the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation he seeks to keep the neighborhood accessible to lower income families as property values rise.

Clearly the flashpoint issue of the Bennett Tract is of vital importance in Father Bill’s campaign to protect the neighborhood. The thought of an additional 25,000 daily vehicular trips to his neighborhood appalls him. “We fight as hard as we do because we live here, and it’s the last stronghold for the Hispanic community.” There is a controlled edge in his voice as he describes the situation as “a subtle eminent domain and an economic racism” which will geographically fragment the vibrant community that he loves.

He says, “We live here and any type of development on that tract will have an impact on this old historical community and could possibly destroy this community. As far as I know no one in this community stands to make any money off of this project. In fact I do not believe that any one from this community has money invested in this project. Therefore we as a community stand to gain nothing by the development and we could lose the quality of life and even our homes,” if the developers do not take that into consideration.

But Father Bill is not an angry man. In his opinion, there is a vital difference between anger and passion. He explains, “Anger is stupid, where passion is helpful.” The most frustrating force in his professional life is the disunity of East Austin. He makes it clear that he doesn’t believe that racism is behind the disunity and that the race card is an overplayed one. The disunity is one of passionate differences, something that can be healed through dialogue. In that sense, the work between churches in which he participates is challenging, but he believes it strengthens and unites the community.

Austin’s East Side is only the most recent chapter in Father Bill’s long life of service. He spent twelve years in Peru, first in the pueblo Comas outside Lima, then in the agricultural cooperatives further inland, in the jungle. Another assignment found Father Bill on the west coast of Vancouver Island with the Nootka Indians, a whaling culture, whose connection to nature seems to have left a profound impression on him.

The rare hours of free time that the 66-year-old Father Bill affords to himself go to walks with his three-year-old golden retriever or to leisurely rounds of golf. On the course, he walks eighteen and values the peace and quiet more than the pursuit of a low handicap.

As duty calls again, Father Bill will be leaving his beloved Our Lady of Guadalupe community this summer. He’s not yet sure where he’ll be going, but he will be certain to continue fulfilling his “incredible passion that the poor aren’t screwed.”

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Democratic fundraiser . . . News anchor Dan Rather and Tom Meredith, CEO of Dell Ventures, explained their perspectives on “Power Shifts and After-Shocks,” at the home of Council Member Will Wynn last week. Mayor Kirk Watson served as moderator. The Travis County Democratic Party needed funds to pay off its debt from the last election . . . Good news for GreenChoice subscribers . . . Beginning in April, Austin Energy customers who signed up for the initial offering of wind and landfill gas-generated electricity will be receiving lower electric bills. Chuck Manning, general manager, has notified customers that they will start paying 1.7 cents per kWh instead of the standard fuel charge of 2.682 cents per kWh . . . Zoning changes granted . . . The City Council Thursday approved general office (GO-CO) zoning for property at 6514 McNeil Rd. The property had previously been zoned as I-RR, rural residence. The Council also approved a change from RR and SF-1 (single-family large lot) to LO-CO and GO-CO (limited office and general office with conditions)for 12716-12728 Dakota Lane.

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