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Many on alert over water drilling plan in Hays

Friday, January 30, 2015 by Andy Sevilla

Hays County officials and residents concerned over the proposed pumping of 1.8 billion gallons of water per year from the Trinity Aquifer are calling for the Texas Legislature’s help.

“Immediate action needs to be taken to fill in that white zone, that white area, and that can only be done by our legislature,” Pct. 3 Hays County Commissioner Will Conley said of an unregulated water well field located outside the jurisdiction of groundwater districts.

Local oversight and permitting for commercial groundwater use and distribution is needed throughout all of Hays County, Conley said.

A Houston-based commercial water provider, Electro Purification, is proposing to pump 1.8 billion gallons of water per year from the Cow Creek Formation of the Trinity Aquifer in western Hays County.

Electro Purification’s well field is located on property just outside the jurisdiction of the Barton Springs/Edwards Conservation District and the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District near Wimberley.

The Edwards Aquifer Authority is the regulatory groundwater authority in that area, but that district governs only the Edwards Aquifer; the Trinity Aquifer underneath it is up for grabs.

Since no water district governs the Trinity where the well field is located, the wholesale water supplier operates under Texas’ 1904 “rule of capture,” which allows limitless pumping of water with no regard to effects on neighbors.

“I think we should prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Conley said. “And at least from my perspective, hoping for the best is that this project goes away.”

Electro Purification is contracting with Goforth Water Special Utility District, the City of Buda and Clark Wilson — a developer proposing to build 2,200 homes just outside of Mountain City — for 3.0 million, 1.0 million and 1.3 million gallons of water per day from the Trinity Aquifer.

“Currently we have no site-specific data of this area, and we are concerned of the potential impact to people that live around (Electro Purification’s) well site, as well as some of the area within the Trinity (Aquifer),” BSEACD board member Mary Stone told Buda’s City Council on Jan. 20, minutes before it approved the contract.

Buda was the latest customer to sign on with Electro Purification, and the only one to require a mitigation plan for neighbors whose domestic wells may run dry due to its water drilling.

For more than an hour, countless residents, Hays County officials and representatives from groundwater districts implored the Buda Council to delay a vote on its moving forward with a water supply agreement.

Buda Mayor Todd Ruge said that the Council had to act at the Jan. 20 meeting because Electro Purification was on record stating that it would implement a mitigation clause to its agreement.

“In realizing Buda’s water may run short in 2017, the City Council was placed in an unenviable position of securing a plausible water source while considering the effects to our neighbors in the county,” Buda officials said in an empathy letter the next day.

“The City secured the needed water, but only with the condition that a water mitigation plan be put in place to support the long term well-being of wells in the area,” the letter continued.

And while Buda is requiring a mitigation strategy, those details have yet to be hashed out and made public. Also, questions linger of how domestic well owners could prove it was the drilled water headed to Buda, and not the other two customers who have no mitigation plan in their contracts, as the potential cause of running wells dry.

Ruge said he had no answer for how that could be proved, but he did say anyone concerned over the matter could lobby Goforth Water and Clark Wilson to add a mitigation provision to their contracts.

“It is just irresponsible of Buda to buy this water without first allowing the aquifer districts to collect and model their own data,” Willis Rothelle told the city in response to its empathy letter, which was posted on its Facebook page.

“Honestly, reading your so-called empathetic response to the public outrage only enrages me more,” Sheri Searcy Overton commented on the page. “Buda is knowingly contributing to the theft of my water and the destruction of my well. And you have the audacity to tell me how thoughtful you’ve been to require a mitigation plan.

“This may assuage your guilt, but it does nothing for the fact that I’ll have to suffer before my pain is ‘mitigated,’ if ever. Shame on you, Neighbor!”

Hays County Commissioners are in the process of forming a committee to explore the proposed water drilling project, its sustainability and how to work to pass legislation to bring all aquifers inside Hays County under a regulatory authority.

State Rep. Jason Isaac and Sen. Donna Campbell have both been asked to serve on the committee, along with Buda, Kyle, Goforth Water, BSEACD, HTGCD, the Hays County Public Utility Agency and other stakeholders.

HCPUA has planned to pipe water from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer as a sustainable future water supply for Buda, Kyle, San Marcos and other local governments. That project, however, has not yet been realized, and funding mechanisms are being sought to construct the proposed east-west pipeline.

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