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Travis commissioners pass subdivision moratorium

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Travis County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a temporary moratorium on new plats for subdivisions that plan to use ground water directly from the Trinity Aquifer in western Travis County.

 

The moratorium is designed to halt major development while the county considers its next step. There are concerns that overuse of the aquifer fueled by massive growth could deplete the resource.


Commissioners took action as part of a broader debate over what should be the next step in water regulation in that section of the county. Though there seems to be plenty, if not total, support for a future groundwater conservation district, just how that entity should be constructed remains controversial.

Whatever the future may bring, both staff and court members were careful to point out that the move wouldn’t end development in western Travis. They were also clear that they expected some sort of resolution before the moratorium is set to expire next October.

Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District President Jimmy Skipton visited the court from his home in Hays County. He told the commissioners that, though his group would support the creation of such a district for western Travis County, they would stridently oppose any effort to create a so-called superdistrict that would include portions of Travis, Hays, and Comal counties.

 

“It’s very important to our constituents … (and) we want to stay local. We don’t want to be in a superdistrict. We will fight it to the end,” he said.

 

“We will work with (the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) to help y’all get a district — you need a district. It’s very important that you get a district,” he continued. “But … I just didn’t want y’all to go into this thinking that this was going to be a quick process and that we were all on board (with a superdistrict).”

According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Groundwater Conservation Districts are “(l)ocally governed districts for the management of groundwater supplies, with limited management planning oversight.” To create one, local governments must go through that body. There are, according to the commission, 96 such entities in the state of Texas.

 

Portions of southwestern Travis County have been designated as a Priority Groundwater Management Area since 1990. Though that move is often seen as a precursor to the establishment of a groundwater district, no such action has been taken there (see In Fact Daily, Oct. 13).

 

Western Travis resident Todd Reimers, whose family has lived in the area for generations, supported creation of a district but objected to the moratorium. “We see a lot of people that are new to Austin, to Travis County, that want to come in and change the rules,” he said. “And that’s okay … but what I’m having a hard time understanding is why do long-term property owners, who have been stewards of the land, have to suffer the consequences of actions of people who are relative newcomers to the area.”  


Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols was clear about the timing of the moratorium. “(It has) an expiration date,” he said. “(The moratorium) expires automatically if you don’t do anything. If you want anything to happen after October 31, 2011, you have to put it on the agenda, give the notices, do the public hearings, do the takings impact assessment, do all that to continue with anything. Otherwise it expires on its own accord.”

 

Residents have expressed some concern that the moratorium could turn into an indefinite ban.

Next up for the county is the appointment of an advisory committee that will make suggestions about how water conservation in this section of the county will proceed. Staff told the court that such a body would be appointed by November and should be able to meet in December.


After the hearing Precinct 3 Commissioner Karen Huber, who has pushed for the action, told In Fact Daily that the process to establish a district is “extremely complicated.”

 

“There are many, many moving parts both in stakeholders and in the process itself,” she continued. “Right now, I have some problems myself with what (the state commission) is proposing. I do personally believe that a groundwater district that encompass more, rather than less, of an aquifer is better because it’s like a glass of water … If you have one jurisdiction with a straw here and another jurisdiction with a straw (there), they’re still pulling from the same glass of water.”

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