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Barton Springs board discusses future of Hays-Trinity District

Thursday, October 2, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham

The Barton Spring Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is pondering the possibilities and the politics of folding the ineffectual Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District into a single groundwater district sometime in the future.


Andrew Backus, president of Hays-Trinity was at Thursday night’s board meeting when the board took up discussions concerning annexation of western Travis County in the Barton Springs district.  The conversation began with the board discussing Ted Stewart, one of the largest landowners in that part of the county, who had told the BSEACD that he thought the land west of the Pedernales River, would be more appropriately annexed by the Blanco-Pedernales GCD. 


Backus said he was “personally interested” in that portion of the county, especially given the limited funding his GCD has. He told the board “we haven’t expended energy to see if we could pull it off but conceptually, I’m into it,” although he did concede that the Barton Springs did have more resources to make such an annexation a reality.


The Hays-Trinity GCD receives its funding from onetime $300 well permits and hookup fees to homes on municipal systems that combine surface water and groundwater. Backus told the board, “I’m not sure that elected officials really respect the concept of a GCD that we have to work with.” He added that Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) had thus far been unresponsive to any legislative initiatives that could change the floundering GCD’s condition.


Backus said that Hays-Trinity currently had one hydrogeologist straight out of college, and a graduate student doing research for them. Primarily, he noted, the GCD operates with a volunteer staff. He noted that the Hays-Trinity was “artfully set up to follow the letter of the law but not the spirit.”


Kirk Holland, general manager of Barton Springs district told the board, “Continuing on the present path is not sustainable” for Hats-Trinity. “It’s better to quit rather than operate on a shoestring.” Backus said that without the extra funding that may come from legislative changes or annexed land, “we could exist,” but would be unable to effectively carry out their mission of groundwater conservation, protection and management. When asked what the solution would be, Backus, careful to note he was speaking for himself and not his board, said “grow or die.”


Another solution, Backus said, was a potential merger with the Barton Springs district. In such a scenario, he indicated the Hays-Trinity would collapse at the same time it was annexed. Holland said legislation is not necessary for two adjacent GCDs to consolidate. Bill Dugat, Barton Springs district Counsel told the board the unique complexities of these two specific GCDs would make the situation “messy.”  Holland proposed a hypothetical scenario where Hays-Trinity underwent dissolution and the resulting hole in the Priority Groundwater Management Area would then be available for annexation.


Pct. 1 Director Mary Stone wondered aloud what kind of support Barton Springs could provide for Hays-Trinity, although Board President Bob Larsen cautioned that doing so would not necessarily help their own endeavors, saying they would be “venturing into dangerous land there.”


Pct. 5 Director Craig Smith said any solution to the weakened HTGCD would likely be another year or so away.

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