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BSEACD proposing more stringent rules for drought

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Due to the severity of the drought, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District has formally proposed a series of rules changes that would establish a new tier of responses to extreme drought. The new emergency responses, if enacted, would restrict pumping to public water supply systems.


Currently the district has three levels of response: a non-drought stage, an alarm stage and a critical stage. The critical stage includes an emergency response period, which allows for the most drastic conservation measures should a critical stage endure. The district is proposing the creation of an additional stage, called the exceptional stage, as well as revising the emergency response period. The proposed changes would affect both historical groundwater pumping permits as well as newer Class A and Class B permits.


The BSEACD measures the Edwards Aquifer levels using 30-day averages of cubic feet per second coming from Barton Springs and the depth of water at the Lovelady Monitor Well in South Austin. Currently when spring flows drop below 38 cfs, the BSEACD goes into the alarm stage. At 20 cfs the district moves into the critical stage, with flows of 14 cfs constituting the emergency response period. Currently the levels are at 15.6 cfs and there has been a moratorium on new pumping permits since April of this year.


Under the new rules, an exceptional stage would be triggered at 14 cfs and require both Class A and Class B (conditional) permit holders to cease pumping. Historical permits would have to reduce pumping by 40 percent during the exceptional stage.


Once the exceptional stage was activated, the board could vote to move into an emergency response period, or ERP. Kirk Holland, General Manager of the BSEACD told In Fact Daily, “Under current rules when flow is below 14 cfs the board may consider declaring an Emergency Response Period. It’s not a requirement, but there’s a presumption that it would.” He said the new rules would trigger the board’s decision on an ERP at 10 cfs.


The new ERP could require limitations on historical pumping at the discretion of the board up to and including cessation of non-essential pumping, which could restrict pumping for public water suppliers by 40 percent.


Board member Craig Smith said that an ERP would have a huge effect on local entities. “The majority of people are on public water supply,” he said. “But there are major pumpers that aren’t, like CenTexas, Texas Lehigh. This is very serious because this would shut them down unless they have an alternative source,” said Smith. “So we’re trying hard to find them alternative sources,” Smith said. “We’re just hoping for rain.”


Jennifer Walker, water resources specialist with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, told In Fact Daily, “I think it’s certainly a move in the right direction,” but noted that the Sierra Club is concerned with the thresholds being too high. “We have an issue with the triggers at 14 cfs and 10 cfs,” she said.


The district rules would also allow for the creation of temporary transfer permits. This would allow water holders to sell up to 90 percent of their unused water rights, temporarily, to other entities in need of additional pumping capacity. Holland said that “the idea was to soften the blow” to those who may not have been counting on such restrictions. Such a program could be a precursor to the district’s own cap and trade program, which they have been exploring.


Holland told In Fact Daily he thought the changes were “far-reaching, but they have to be because of the severity of the current droughts.” He said it may be early September before conditions would reach 14 cfs or below. “It’s a very serious situation,” Holland said. “While there’s water in the aquifer, we’re concerned about a continuation of this very severe drought. Certainly during the summer there’s going to be additional drawdown… conservation measures are required, but they may not be enough.”


The new rules would also introduce management zones to the district. John Dupnik, the district’s Regulatory Compliance Specialist, said these would “enable the district to regulate the aquifers in appropriate ways.” Currently, the district has only one set of rules and policies governing the entire jurisdiction. The new zones would allow for different management regulations and rules for saline parts of the Edwards and Trinity Aquifers. The BSEACD hopes that such changes will incentivize desalination pumping in eastern parts of the district. Dupnik said the new zones are “intended to allow those who want to develop alternate resources to pursue that.”


Meanwhile, the city of Kyle is requesting additional Class B pumping authority to extract up to 185 million gallons a day on top of the 165 mgd that they have under a historical permit. Save Our Springs Alliance has filed a formal letter of protest and could have a formal contested case hearing against the city at the BSEACD’s August 27 meeting. Even if the permit, which was submitted before the moratorium was enacted, were to be approved it would have a delayed effective date until the district is out of its current alarm stage.


The BSEACD is now conducting 20 days of a required public comment, and will likely take up the new rules again at the same August 27 meeting. Depending on the feedback and drought the board could pass the rules change then or at the next meeting in early September.

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