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North Travis, Williamson cities to tap aquifer as added water source

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 by Michael Kanin

An agreement announced this week by the Manville Water Supply Corporation for regions surrounding Round Rock, Pflugerville, Hutto, and Manor promises to increase water supplies for one of the highest growth regions of Texas. In a notable development, the agreement relies not on surface water pulled from the drought-impacted Highland Lakes, but on groundwater.


The contract, a 25-year commitment between Manville and a subsidiary of BlueWater Systems, secures for the supply corporation “(one) million gallons a day of groundwater…an increase of more than 6.5 percent in Manville’s total supplies.”


“The contract strengthens Manville, which is owned by its members,” Manville General Manager Tony Graf said. “With this additional groundwater, we have more options and more flexibility. We’ll be able to provide water for more people in this area without drawing on water from the Highland Lakes.”


That last issue is a significant one. The current drought threatens to plunge Central Texas into a situation worse than the one that persisted in the middle of last century. Outside of the drastic decline in water levels for Lakes Buchanan and Travis, a drought worse than that drought of record would force mandatory conservation efforts on municipal utilities that purchase water from the Lower Colorado River Authority, the organization that controls the Highland Lakes.


When the combined levels of Lakes Travis and Buchanan drop below 30 percent of capacity, utilities supplied by LCRA will be ordered to cut their water usage by 20 percent.


A Monday editorial in the Austin American-Statesman noted that, even with recent rain, the organization expects that to happen in the “next several weeks.”


The editorial also suggests that, thanks to ongoing conservation efforts, the City of Austin and its Austin Water Utility may not be dramatically impacted by the potential cutbacks.


Groundwater is not regulated by the river authorities that control surface water in the State of Texas. Instead, groundwater districts regulate those supplies. Former LCRA communications head Robert Cullick told the Statesman in December that the situation could make for muddled legal status.


“The legal and legislative foundation for using groundwater, and buying and selling it, are not at all certain,” Cullick said at the time.


Cullick is also serving as a spokesperson for the Manville-Pflugerville deal. He told In Fact Daily that the Statesman quote referred generally to the situation in Texas, and that the situation in Texas held both positive and negative examples. He noted that the Manville-BlueWater deal represented the former.


“This is from a groundwater source that is very mature, very well regulated,” he said. “People have thought this through…The company has gotten a tremendous amount of (groundwater) leases.”


According to Graf, “the new water comes from the Simsboro Aquifer in Milam and Burleson counties and is protected by 70,993 acre feet of groundwater permits issued by the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District. The source is locally regulated and owned by private property owners who have provided leases to BlueWater.”


Graf says that the deal “gives us the ability to serve the water needs of another 3,300 people.” He continued later: “Like everyone else, we’re working hard to keep up with growth. We know how important it is to have adequate water sources in this region.”


 He called the Simsboro supply “drought-resistant.”

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