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Aquifer District seeks to wrap up talks over drought regulations

Thursday, September 15, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Months of negotiations over water use regulations under the deepest stages of drought may soon be at an end for the Barton Springs/ Edwards Aquifer Conservation District.


At issue is a 2009 rule passed by the board that would require greater curtailments for non-agricultural irrigation permittees than those required of public supply systems during the Emergency Response Period (ERP), which is the agency’s most severe drought declaration.


The board will meet Saturday morning in hopes of putting order to months of negotiated rulemaking behind them. The negotiation was initiated by the two companies that stand to be most affected by the statute, Texas LeHigh Cement Company and Centex Materials LLC, who disagreed with the  board’s reading of the statute. The resulting interpretation of the statute will apply to all industrial and non-agricultural irrigation permittees in the district.


The objective of the statute was to help relieve some of the demand on the Edwards Aquifer.


Currently, if a non-agricultural permit holder does not demonstrate that they have an alternate water supply, they are subject to up to 85 percent curtailment during an ERP. If they do provide proof that they have a source other than the Edwards Aquifer, then they are subject to the same curtailment as other permittees, 40 percent.


“They took issue with being selectively required to do more than others, I guess,” said Barton Springs/ Edwards Aquifer Conservation District spokesman John Dupnik. “Our board’s position was, when we are in the deepest stages of the drought and we’re really trying to allocate the last few gallons, or the last remaining bit of volume within the aquifer, then priority goes to drinking water.”


Centex took umbrage with several aspects of this requirement. While they do not mind having it, they disagree with being forced to use the source. They argued that such a move is a business decision they should be able to make on their own.


“It requires us to have in place, and available, an alternate supply of water, or an alternate source. It doesn’t require us to use it. That is correct. That is what we feel the state statute says also,” said Centex President David Loftis.


Centex also lobbied to have the alternate source include such things as shipping water from other suppliers.


According to the aquifer district, the problem with this plan is that, absent a mandate that permittees also use the alternate source, there would be little incentive to employ the costlier option, so companies would enjoy the benefits of reduced curtailment, without benefiting the district’s goals of conserving aquifer water.


“It was really more of a paper exercise. When, as a practical matter, they would just do it for no other reason than to say that they satisfied the standard, to get back up to the lesser curtailment level, and then use all of the Edwards they could unless they were forced into a situation where the Edwards couldn’t provide what they needed and they had  to haul water,” said Dupnik.


In the eleventh hour, with a draft of the rule on the table, Centex emerged with a revised draft that will be considered this weekend. In it, the proposed alternate water source could also come from a machine that recycles wastewater.


Loftis emphasized that the machinery would conserve water all the time, not just in cases of exceptional drought.


“What this will allow us to do is put our resources towards equipment that saves water as opposed to putting towards equipment that maybe gets us a different water source,” said Loftis. “We’re going to do the best we can to be as helpful as we can, as long as it’s economically viable.”


Loftis explained that the considerable cost of the equipment would be a better investment for the company than digging another well.


While they voted to postpone a vote on the revised draft, there was support for the water reclamation machinery. “From a resource management perspective, it makes a whole lot of sense to go forward with that, regardless of what the rules say,” said General Manager Kirk Holland.

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