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BSEACD debates annexing unregulated wells

Monday, February 2, 2015 by Kara Nuzback

Water supply company Electro Purification is planning to pump 5 million gallons of water per day from an unregulated area just outside the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, causing neighbors to question whether EP could deplete water in the area. At a meeting Thursday, nearby residents asked the district’s board of directors to annex the property where EP’s pumps are located — and their own land — so EP would be subject to BSEACD’s more stringent regulations for water suppliers.

The board took no action, but assured residents it would continue to work toward a solution.

“There are so many tennis balls in the air,” said board member Mary Stone.

Stone said representatives of the BSEACD would attend a Hays County Commissioners Court Round Table Committee meeting on EP at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5 at the Hays County Government Center, as well as a town hall meeting on EP Water Mining in Hays County, hosted by Rep. Jason Isaac, at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10 in the Wimberley Community Center.

“We hear you on the annexation,” Stone said. “Everybody is concerned about this and wants to get you all into a groundwater district.”

EP acquired three contracts for water supply in an unregulated area in the Trinity Aquifer’s Cow Creek Formation; the most recent contract came from Buda City Council, Jan. 20.

Brian Smith, BSEACD hydrogeologist, said the district does not have sufficient data to show what impact EP’s pumps will have on domestic wells within a 2-mile radius, or on the area’s water supply in general.

“There are parts of the Trinity that are being depleted,” he said. “This could be a trigger for that depletion.”

Smith added that the Cow Creek Formation is a source of water for many wells in the surrounding area. He said the district hopes to make an arrangement with EP to perform its own pumping test to better calculate how EP’s pumps affect the area.

BSEACD General Manager John Dupnik said there are at least 95 domestic wells within a 2-mile radius of EP’s pumps, adding, “This is a very conservative estimate.”

Rolling Oaks resident Les Carnes said the number of domestic wells is closer to 300, because most of the wells were installed before the district started keeping track. Carnes said he hoped the district would annex the area.

“I’d like to explore the possibility of getting into this district as soon as possible, if not yesterday,” he said.

Resident Debbie Lewis, a renewable energy engineer, echoed Carnes’ request to be annexed, saying she would volunteer the two wells on her property for tests if the district needed.

Lewis warned that the area has seen fires in the past, and if water is depleted by EP, a wildfire could quickly spread from the area to Buda or Kyle with no way for residents to quell the flames.

“If we do have a fire, we’re looking at no permeability,” she said. “You’re looking at a recharge issue; we’re looking at a safety concern issue.”

Rolling Oaks resident Suzanne Teshera asked the board what recourse it has if it does annex the area, considering that EP already has contracts in place with Buda and its other two clients — Goforth Water Special Utility District and developer Clark Wilson.

She also asked what tax burden property owners would carry if BSEACD annexed the area.

“I’m not saying we don’t want to be annexed,” Teshera said; property owners just want to know the details.

Dupnik said BSEACD does not tax residents.

Linda Kaye Rogers serves on the board for the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, which also borders but does not have authority over EP’s pumps. She said Hays Trinity is also seeking to annex the area, and it has a petition in the works.

“We’re all feeling very urgent about doing something as quickly as possible,” she said.

Board attorney Bill Dugat said that according to Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code, a landowner must file a petition requesting annexation, and the district must hold a hearing to consider the request. If the district decides annexation would benefit both the individual property and the district, it can annex the property with no election.

To consider annexing a territory of multiple properties, the district must receive a petition from residents in the territory and hold a hearing in both the territory and in the district to consider the request.

All landowners in the territory do not have to favor the annexation, but it must pass a majority vote during an election in May or November. To hold an election in May, the district would have to contract with Hays County by Feb. 27, Dugat said.

“It would be very ambitious,” he added.

Dugat also said that BSEACD is seeking an attorney general’s opinion on whether the board has the authority to regulate the Trinity Aquifer. He said the opinion should be ready by July, if the attorney general’s office does not extend the deadline.

If BSEACD annexed the area, EP would have to obtain a permit for its wells, Dupnik explained. He added that many residential and livestock wells would be exempt from permitting, but the landowners would still be required to register the wells with BSEACD.

Also pending is a request from now-former state Rep. Bill Callegari (R-Katy) for an opinion from the Texas Office of the Attorney General “regarding the authority of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (“the District”) to regulate aquifers other than the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer, including the Trinity Aquifer.” EP’s wells are in the Trinity.

Photo: A picture of a sprinkler watering a lawn. By Fir0002. Uploaded to Commons from {{GFDL}}

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