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Legislators ask aquifer district to expedite Buda's request

Friday, February 27, 2004 by

Wentworth, Rose question need for new recharge map

Two legislators who represent Hays County have written to the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) board asking for an expedited approval of Buda’s forthcoming request to increase water pumpage and questioning the need for an accurate model of the recharge zone. Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) and Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Hays) also wrote: “The (district) is a statutorily created water conservation district whose principal focus should be helping the constituents of the district manage the local groundwater resources. The focus should not be on placing in its constituents’ path administrative requirements that will cause nothing but delays and higher costs on projects designed for the benefit of Texans.”

At the direction of the board, district staff has been looking at a potential upper limit on pumping from the aquifer. That amount, yet to be determined, would allow for continued use of all the currently permitted wells and continuation of spring flows at Barton Springs under drought conditions. At the same time, developers are planning projects, particularly in the Buda area, that can be expected to use large quantities of water. The growing city will likely be asking to add 75 million gallons per year to its current allotment of 200 million gallons.

BSEACD General Manager Veva McCaig, who received a copy of the letter, said it surprised her because Buda has not yet filed its application. During a conversation with Buda city administrator Bob Mathis in January, McCaig said, “I said you need to count backwards about 4-5 months from when you want the water,” to when the application should be filed. One reason for the length of the process, she said, is that Buda will have to do a pump test. Mathis, she said, wanted a multi-year permit instead of the standard one-year permit. “Two weeks later, I was copied on an email to PBS&J,” Buda’s engineering firm, “to start doing the paperwork for the amendment . . . and then I got the letter from Wentworth and Rose,” McCaig said.

The legislators’ letter says that some of the projects planned for the Buda area “would mean many new jobs for Central Texans, potentially lower property taxes for the residents of Buda and the surrounding area and an improved tax base . . . We expect that the BSEACD will prove that environmental concerns can be balanced with the need for jobs and a healthy economy.”

The letter concludes with a request that the district expedite approval of Buda’s request; “justify the need for and the accuracy of the proposed Edwards Aquifer Recharge boundary change; and explain to us the BSEACD Groundwater Availability Model . . . In addition, and in consideration of the stakes involved, we urge that an economic impact analysis be performed as well.”

McCaig said, “We contacted them almost as soon as we got the letter to set up a meeting to answer (their questions) . . . and to also kind of talk with them about what precipitated this letter being written.” McCaig said staff of both offices had been having difficulty finding a time when Wentworth and Rose could meet with the district staff to answer their questions.

District hydrogeologist Brian Smith stands ready to answer technical questions concerning the change in the recharge zone as well as the groundwater availability model. He said the map showing recharge areas reflects the geology of the aquifer, noting that the changes have been in progress for many, many years. The new map indicates previously unknown recharge features along Garlic Creek, he said. However, other areas that were previously thought to contain recharge features will no longer be in that category. When the new map was completed, he said, it was sent to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which will hold hearings on the matter and make a decision about the map’s accuracy. A large number of scientists reviewed the proposed new map, Smith said, “to make sure we have the broad support of the scientific community.”

Smith said the Texas Water Development Board is required by law to provide a groundwater availability model. The board is working on similar projects for all Texas water areas, Smith said. The Groundwater Availability Advisory Team, which included scientists from the Bureau of Economic Geology at UT and the Lower Colorado River Authority, helped the district in coming up with the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer model, which shows how much water is available underground. “Now we’re using it as a tool to determine just how much water is available that can be used by the various entities,” Smith said. “Our goal is to maintain sufficient water levels in the aquifer during the drought,” to keep the springs flowing and minimize effects of drought conditions on water users, he said.

With the assistance of the Water Development Board, the aquifer district is working to determine what amount of water can be pumped—expressed in cubic feet per second—during a time of extreme drought, known as Stage 3. When that occurs, the district will ask users to cut back on their water usage. Conservation measures, however, are expected to save only about 30 percent, so the sustainable yield must not be much above 30 percent more than would be needed to keep all wells and the springs flowing. Otherwise, the district could end up permitting amounts far beyond what would be available during a drought.

“We’ve come up with a value of how much water can be pumped,” Smith said. That magic number is 10 cubic feet per second (cfs), or 7,200 acre-feet per year. The average spring flow at Barton Springs is 53 cfs. “When you look at 10 cfs as the amount that can be pumped during a drought, the spring flow drops significantly. During the 1950 drought, the lowest flow was 9.6 feet per second,” he said. At that time, there were few residents in Hays County and the amount being taken out of the aquifer via wells was only about .5 cfs, the scientist noted.

Currently, the BSEACD permits an estimated 10-11cfs per second. “So, if we went into a drought and there was no conservation, there would be no springs. It would dry up and many of the wells would go dry.” The BSEACD is working on a management plan to make sure that water is still available to users and still flowing from Barton Springs. At this point, he said, everyone requesting water is granted a permit and water companies are granted increases as they are requested. The area currently is in a drought—although not as severe as many in the past.

If the drought went to Stage 3, the district would have to ask water users to significantly cut back their use so everyone would have water, Smith said. Rules are needed to guide the district and its users on permitting during drought conditions, he said. Smith indicated that the board would be holding hearings to get input on policies and rules to implement those policies in the near future.

Frank Del Castillo of PBS&J said he expects Buda’s application for more water to be filed “in the next month or so.”

Soifer accuses Triana campaign of violating election law

Triana consultant Maxey terms accusation 'ludicrous'

Late yesterday, Jan Soifer, who is running a hotly contested race for district judge against Gisela Triana and John Hathaway, said she would file an Ethics Commission complaint against the Triana campaign in connection with the anonymously posted web site Both Triana and her political consultant, Glenn Maxey, deny any involvement with the site. The three candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination for judge of the 200th District Court.

According to the Soifer campaign, they believe that Triana’s consultants, Maxey and his employee Rick Cofer, are responsible for the site, which details Soifer’s work for Republicans during the redistricting lawsuit battle of 2001.

They base their belief, in part, on a statement from Susan Daniels, president of the Capital Area Progressive Democrats. According to the Soifer campaign statement, Daniels “told the Soifer campaign she heard a Triana campaign staffer take credit for the web site at a Democratic even in November.” The campaign said they would get an affidavit from Daniels today. Based on that, Soifer plans to file a complaint alleging a violation of the law that makes it Class A Misdemeanor to knowingly misrepresent the source of a campaign communication with the intent to injure a candidate or influence an election (Election Code, Title 15, Section 255.04).

Further, Soifer’s campaign says, the site was first launched on December 5, “two days after Triana formally announced her candidacy . . . the site featured negative remarks about Soifer’s candidacy made in the Austin Chronicle the previous day” by Maxey. Maxey, a retired state representative, lost his chance to run for re-election because of redistricting. In reference to Soifer, he told the Chronicle, “We’re talking about someone who helped take me and a lot of other good Democrats out of the Legislature, so for me this is real personal.”

When told of the Soifer campaign’s allegations last night, Maxey laughed, calling them “ludicrous.” The former legislator said neither he nor Cofer, nor anyone else in the Triana Campaign “had anything to do with this web site. We’ve found it kind of humorous from the git-go.” Triana, as earlier reported, has previously denied knowing the origin of the web site.

Cofer told In Fact Daily, “I didn’t have anything to do with it. I didn’t even know about it until Glenn got an email,” informing him of the site. Maxey and Cofer both say that Cofer, a college student, lacks web site building skills.

Maxey said Soifer is “sadly mistaken,” adding, “I find it amazing that Jan Soifer wants to continue to point out her work on the redistricting suit. I guess my shock is that they want to keep telling the voters about her work for the Republicans. This is the most bone-headed thing I’ve ever seen a campaign do.”

Soifer continues to battle against allegations that she is not a loyal Democrat. She points out that Triana was a Republican in 1990—which Triana does not dispute. They have been sparring over the party loyalty question mostly through mail pieces. In spite of her work for the Republicans, Soifer says she is “a lifelong Democrat and made that clear to everyone working on those cases. My work on those cases was not reflective of my personal politics. To be clear, I despise what Tom DeLay and the Republicans have done to our state with redistricting.”

The web site has a curious history. Soifer consultant Mark Nathan found that the site was originally registered in December to ‘George Kendell,’ whom Nathan describes as a fictitious person. On February 17, the site registration was changed to the name of Oscar Garza on Griggs Avenue in San Antonio. When In Fact Daily contacted Garza, who is most comfortable in Spanish, he said he knew nothing about the web site. When the Soifer campaign contacted Garza he told them the same thing and said he would provide an affidavit to that effect.

The site’s registration was changed again yesterday to “Jason Culler, 426 Hughson Street, Baton Rouge, LA.” There is no listing for anyone by that name in Baton Rouge and phone number is fictitious. In Fact Daily attempted to contact the site’s owner by email several days ago and has received no reply.

Council waives parade fees, responding to accusations

Sponsors knew about fee waivers, say city officials

The City Council went on record Thursday as supporting Texas Independence Day festivities, while firing back at the organizers of the state’s Independence Day parade. State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and members of the non-profit group Celebrate Texas held a news conference earlier this week to announce that the parade and a “fun run” scheduled for next week were being cancelled because the city had increased its fees. The news conference was covered in major newspapers across the state. “We voted unanimously to waive the fees, and somehow it’s being said we’re raising the fees,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken.

City Budget Officer Rudy Garza, Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Director Austan Librach, Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon and City Manager Toby Futrell all chimed in to outline the city’s contribution to the Texas Independence Day Parade. “The event last year was a parade and a run that was combined on one day,” Futrell said. “This year, the event that was presented to us was spread over two days. The parade was on one day and the run was on another day. That greatly increases the cost for both police and barricades that are rented. Council brought forth a fee waiver, and you waived everything but barricades and police overtime.”

McCracken said the Council was more than willing to sponsor the entire parade, including waiving fees for police overtime, and had passed that information on to the event’s organizers. Futrell confirmed that the item to waive all fees was posted as an addendum to the Council agenda earlier this week, and that the posting was prior to the announcement that next week’s parade was being cancelled. “The sponsors knew that the Council was going to sponsor it and that we already had it on the agenda,” McCracken said. “We came forward in January as a Council and we waived the fees. The sponsors decided to double the number of days. We offered to sponsor the entire thing . . . to have the City of Austin taxpayers pay the bill. What I have a big problem with . . . is when the sponsors and board members know the truth (and) they present factual assertions that are untrue. When we are working to be a good partner with the state . . . it makes it more difficult when people scapegoat this Council. We’ve done everything they’ve asked us to do, and they knew at the time they held this press conference that we were waiving every last fee and sponsoring it.”

The proposal to waive all the fees for the parade both this year and next passed on a vote of 6-0, with Council Member Daryl Slusher temporarily away from the dais. The vote for this year’s waivers is largely symbolic, since Futrell told Council members that event organizers had conveyed to her that the parade for next week was irrevocably canceled regardless of any Council action this week. Still, Council members wanted to make sure they are not perceived as being opposed to the parade. “We’ve been getting a lot of emails,” said Council Member Danny Thomas.“I don’t think we, as a Council, ever said we’re not supporting this particular event. I had a close friend of mine telling me I wasn’t a Texan.”

Aids treatment funding tweaked . . . The Council approved funding treatment programs for HIV and AIDS patients on Thursday after making slight changes to the staff recommendation. The proposal brought forward had included funds for a marketing campaign targeting high-risk groups in order to help prevent the spread of the disease. It would have also shifted some of the responsibility for providing information and referrals to potential clients away from individual health-service agencies to the social services 24-hour hotline, 2-1-1. But representatives of AIDS Services of Austin told the Council that such a move would hurt their ability to help patients, and that they received relatively few after-hours calls seeking information. Council Members Betty Dunkerley, Raul Alvarez and Brewster McCracken all voiced concerns about the proposal. “We’re disrupting the system, and we don’t have buy-in from the folks in the trenches,” McCracken said of the proposed changes. The Council voted 7-0 to redirect $80,000 earmarked for an HIV-awareness campaign and $40,000 to fund other information and referral sources back to AIDS Services of Austin. The Council directed the City Manager to seek out other funds for the marketing campaign. The issue may also wind up before Travis County Commissioners, since the county also provides funding for the Health and Human Services Department. . . Judges . . . The Council approved the same group of attorneys to serve as Municipal Court Judges as they approved on two prior votes. That leaves Judge Celia Castro to hunt for a job and Judges John Vasquez and Mitch Solomon on the bench for another two years. Al Jenkins from the Police Monitor’s Office will be the only new full-time judge. The Council also reappointed Judges Ferdinand Clervi, Michael Coffey, Ron Meyerson and Ken Vitucci. Council Member Raul Alvarez, who supported reappointment of Castro, amended the motion to postpone the new session to March 15, which effectively gives the retiring judge a couple more weeks to seek work. Council Member Danny Thomas and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman joined Alvarez in opposing Castro’s removal, as they have on two prior votes. After the vote, Castro told In Fact Daily, “I just believe I’ve served the community well. It’s a sad day for the citizens of Austin. This process was flawed from the beginning. Issues were brought up at the last minute that were not issues prior to the procedure being started. I believe the circumstances the City Council took into account did not warrant my dismissal. I have enjoyed serving the citizens of Austin. I am proud to have been the first female Hispanic judge to serve in Austin” . . . Council Members Thomas, Alvarez and Betty Dunkerley all said the process for appointing judges needs to be revised . . . Commission appointments . . . The City Council appointed Jerome Newton to the Planning Commission on the recommendation of Council Member Danny Thomas and reappointed Joseph Martinez to the Zoning and Platting Commission by consensus. Sharlene Perkins, the St. John’s Neighborhood representative, was appointed by consensus to the Community Development Commission. The Council reappointed Michael Kleinman to the Renaissance Market Commission and Teresa Ferguson, a representative of the Music Commission, to the Downtown Commission. Council Member Brewster McCracken appointed Jose de la Fuente to the Ethics Review Commission and Council Member Raul Alvarez reappointed Jesus Sifuentes to the Telecommunications Commission. The Council also appointed Catherine Fallon by consensus to the Medical Assistance Program and Rural Medical Assistance Program Joint Advisory Board . . . Coming in two weeks . . . The City Council agreed to hold a public hearing on March 11 at 6pm on possible amendments to the City Code related to billboards. They agreed to hear On March 25 public comments on amendments to the sign ordinance relating to signs for public, religious and charitable institutions. In addition, they will hold a hearing on the proper height for signs in the Expressway Corridor Sign District and on internal lighting for signs in a Scenic Roadway District.

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