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Aquifer district approves groundwater permit for water ski business

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

At first glance, the idea of allocating groundwater to a water ski business in drought-plagued Central Texas might seem absurd.


But after a thorough examination of the request from Ski Quest, the Barton Springs/ Edwards Aquifer Conservation District voted unanimously last week to do just that.


Though the business has been around since 1990, evaporation from high temperatures combined with recurring drought has meant low water levels for the business’s man-made private lake, and the owners were asking for the permit to supplement the lake during the high business season.


Owners of Ski Quest Inc were asking the district to approve a permit to withdraw up to 2 million gallons of water annually from the Saline Edwards Aquifer. It is located at 10815 FM 1625 – about three miles east of the district’s three-mile buffer zone.


Last week, the district held a public hearing for the request, and ultimately voted 4-0 in favor of its approval. Board Member Bob Larsen was absent.


“I’ve gotten some feedback on this, and some people viewed this with something approaching alarm. But I think it was misplaced and people didn’t understand where the lake is, and that the water is not really usable for another purpose,” said Board Member Craig Smith.


Unlike the more familiar Edwards Aquifer, Saline Edwards water is extremely poor quality. And district hydrologist Brian Smith  explained that the location of the well meant that there would be little chance of the new permit impacting the Edwards Aquifer, as some had feared.


“We will not use this well as a crutch to just keep putting water in,” said owner Bill Vaubell. “It’s only to supplement in droughts.”


His business partner, Jerry Taylor, said that over 20 years, this was only the third time they had needed supplemental water, which is only required during the hottest months of summer.


Vaubell told the board members that they had already reduced the size of the lake by half to prevent it from completely drying up. He explained that a park near New Braunfels, Texas Ski Ranch, has been using the saline aquifer and despite the water being a poorer quality at that location, the park hadn’t had any issues with the water in terms of the environment or public health.


“Unfortunately, they’re not in this district. I feel like we are going to be well-monitored and have better guidelines than they do through your district – they are just free-wheeling,” said Vaubell.


As conditions of approval, the district asked Ski Quest to participate in collecting water samples to help in studying the aquifer. The business also agreed to several environmental conditions that included an agreement to stop well production if it was found to constitute waste or degrade the quality of nearby water.


Vaubell expressed enthusiasm for the conditions, and the opportunity to help the district collect data.


“We know this is going to be kind of a test well also, because no one has wanted to drill there,” said Vaubell. “We’re more than open to work with the district to take in calculations, work as a test well, whatever. We’re open to that, because we want to know the results of our well and how it affects everyone around us.”

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