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Aquifer board OKs compromise water draw for Kyle

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 by John Davidson

After more than a year of deliberations over the city of Kyle‘s application for a permit to double its draw of water from the Barton Springs portion of the Edwards Aquifer, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District unanimously approved a compromise measure Thursday evening.


The decision will allow Kyle to increase its draw by 100.7 million gallons — about 85 million gallons less than what the city had requested — and includes conditions that would limit the additional draw in various stages of drought. The ruling failed to please the city.


District Board Member Craig Smith introduced the compromise motion and explained that the reason for reducing the amount of additional draw from 185 million gallons to 100.7 million gallons was because the city had to show that it could replace all the additional water allowed by the permit with alternative sources of water, such as from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, from which Kyle currently gets a portion of its water supply.


“Rather than just say, ‘No,’ we reduced the amount of the conditional permit to match the alternative supply,” Smith said, “and that reduction seemed to reduce any risk to the Barton Springs salamander from the additional pumpage, But the key factor for the change in the amount was that the evidence showed they did not have quite as much alternative supply as they said they did.”


Kyle city officials disagreed. “We’ve never been anything but clear, since day one, about the contractual water we have access to and the physical capacity we have to get to it,” said Kyle’s attorney Jason Hill. “I beg to differ that there was a Perry Mason moment in the hearing; that’s just wrong.”


Kyle City Manager Thomas Mattis said the meeting was “very confusing,” adding, “We are disappointed in the action taken by the board. We had an expectation that they would make a decision based on the law, the science, the evidence, and the recommendation of their own executive director. Unfortunately, they seem to embrace a very arbitrary decision-making process that was simply not supported by their rules.”


But the board’s action also failed to please the groups opposing the permit, including members of the Save Our Springs Alliance and the Sierra Club, who are concerned that the additional draw will harm the endangered Barton Springs salamander.


The vote on Thursday marks the end of a long period of fact-finding and investigation by the board, the city, and SOS. In August 2009, SOS was recognized as an official party to the permitting process, which means that it had the legal right to contest Kyle’s permit application. Since then, the group has worked to convince the board that granting the permit would not only put too much strain on the water supply and force nearby residents outside Kyle to ration their water use but would also harm the already endangered Barton Springs salamander.


Bill Bunch, executive director of SOS, argued that if the board wouldn’t deny the permit, it should at least tighten the conditions. “We still feel like the permit should have been cut off one hundred percent at the first stage of drought,” he said.


As written, the permit stipulates that the extra water be reduced by 50 percent during an alarm-stage (first-stage) drought and 75 percent during a critical-stage drought and shut off completely in the event of an exceptional-stage drought.


Bunch also argued that the real reason Kyle wants to draw more water from the Edwards Aquifer is because it’s cheaper than buying water from the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority; water from the Edwards Aquifer costs about 70 cents per 1,000 gallons, whereas GBRA water costs about $3 per 1,000 gallons. “We recognize that Kyle has a reasonable interest in having cheaper water,” he said. “We simply don’t believe that interest is enough to balance against the harm to existing water users and water quality and aquatic health at the springs.”


Mattis responded that he has a responsibility as city manager to save money whenever possible, “but it isn’t true to say that’s the primary reason.” Kyle’s goal, said Mattis, “is to develop a diversified water supply for the future of our city, and we’re going to continue to do that … and if we can save four hundred grand in the process, we’ll do that too.”

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