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Two candidates vie for Barton Springs Aquifer district board post

Monday, March 22, 2010 by John Davidson

For the first time since 2002, two candidates are vying for a director position on the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board—an elected body generally comprised of more scientists than politicians.


This year, Austin bankruptcy attorney Charles Nettles is challenging Pct 2 director Gary Franklin for his seat, which is up for reelection in May. BSEACD directors are elected to four-year terms with staggered elections held every two years, but vacant seats on the board are often uncontested. Pct 5 director Craig Smith has held his post since 1998 and will be running for it again this year, unopposed. He is an Assistant County Attorney for Travis County and a former bankruptcy lawyer. Since Smith is the only candidate in his precinct, the district will likely decide not to hold that election.


Charged with management of the region’s groundwater, the BSEACD is an elected body with weighty responsibilities and considerable power—especially in times of drought. But you won’t find any politicians on the board.


Franklin is not a politician; he’s a chemist. By day, he’s an environmental laboratory services project manager at the Lower Colorado River Authority, and since 2006 he’s also been the director of Pct 2 for the BSEACD. Now that his seat is up for reelection and there’s actually someone else running, Franklin will have to launch a political campaign.


“This is all brand new. I’m terrified,” he said, adding that he’s been reading up on the “phonebook of rules.”


His challenger, Nettles, is also not what you would call a politician. An attorney for more than 25 years, Nettles has had a keen interest in groundwater issues for at least the last 12 years. He ran for a seat on the board in 1998 against Don Turner and lost, he says, by just nine votes. Since then, he’s wanted to run in subsequent elections but didn’t have the time—until now.


It’s not that Nettles thinks the current board isn’t doing a good job; he has high praise for the way the board handled last year’s severe drought: “Nobody could have done it any better.” And he doesn’t have an axe to grind with Franklin: “It’s not that I’m running against him, I think I’m running for the board,” he said. “Because I’m filling a gap that I think needs to be filled.”


Moving forward, says Nettles, the board needs more directors with a legal background. “It’s not necessarily going to be, ‘what do you know about water?’ but, ‘what do you know about the legal issues?'”


In his off hours, Nettles volunteers his time to help with aquifer maintenance in somewhat unorthodox ways. Last week, he went swimming in a rather cold Onion Creek and cleared debris away from parts of the creek that drain into the aquifer, part of an effort by the City of Austin to improve aquifer flow.


“I think a lot of people take the water in the aquifer for granted,” Nettles said. “They expect that whenever they turn the faucet on water is going to come out, but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s up to the board to make sure that there’s water in that aquifer.”


Franklin agrees, and sees himself as a logical choice for BSEACD director because he’s already working on pollution and groundwater issues at LCRA. “There’s a lot intertwined,” he said. “It only made sense for me to come here because I’m already fully engrossed.”

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