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Aquifer district ponders annexation in western Travis County

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 by Mark Richardson

The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District has begun to move, albeit slowly, toward annexing a portion of western Travis County that is not currently protected by a groundwater district.

 

The BSEACD has jurisdiction over parts of southern Travis County and northern Hays County. Other groundwater districts cover northwest Hays, Burnet, and northern Travis counties. However, a portion of Travis County – bordered by the Hays County line, the Burnet County line, Lake Travis and a line near the “Y” in Oak Hill – is only part of a regional Priority Groundwater Management Area, or PGMA (pronounced Pig-ma) and there is no regulatory authority to control the pumping of groundwater.

 

In December, Christy Muse, director of the Hill Country Alliance, requested that the district consider annexing the area.

 

“She said a lot of wells in that area went dry the last summer of the drought,” said Board Chair Bob Larsen, adding that it was apparent that there was a need for groundwater protection in the area.

 

State law on how a groundwater district can annex an area is somewhat complicated, but Larsen said the preferred method is that the district be asked by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to consider annexing the area.

 

“We are hopeful that the TCEQ will initiate the process,” he said. “We have encouraged them to put it in a letter to us asking us to consider the annexation. They could also ask the same of Central Texas, Blanco and Hays-Trinity (groundwater districts).”

 

According to General Manager Kirk Holland, it takes a request from the TCEQ to begin annexation.

 

“That starts the gears moving,” Holland said. “The process could take five or six months.” The district staff would have to perform an assessment of the area, the cost of annexing the area. Then the voters in the district would have to ratify the annexation.

 

Holland said the district would have to assess what parts of the area to consider for annexation. Areas such as Lakeway and other areas that use surface water would likely not be considered for annexation, and would not likely vote for it if they were included.

 

Towards that end, Larsen, Holland and Board Member Craig Smith met with TCEQ officials last week to discuss the annexation process, only to discover that the process is new to the agency’s staff, too.

 

“They were confident in the district’s ability to handle the annexation,” Holland said. “They pointed out a few large landowners and some groups that it would be to our advantage to garner their support, or at least avoid their opposition. We agree that it could be tough to annex some parts of the lake community.”

 

Holland said there are other questions to be explored, such as whether after annexation, the district should redraw its district boundaries or add districts and directors. He said the Legislature would have to approve any change in the number of districts.

 

The cost of annexation could be a major factor, Holland said. The district cannot levy taxes, so its only income is derived from fees collected for permits. Thus, if the fees collected from the new permittees do not cover the cost of annexing the area, it might not be possible.

 

He said the district would continue to study annexation, and wait to hear from the TCEQ.

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