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Aquifer board backs annexation of unregulated area

Monday, March 9, 2015 by Kara Nuzback

At its Thursday meeting, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board of directors voted unanimously to support proposed legislation that would expand the district’s territory and give the board authority over part of an unregulated area where water supply company Electro Purification has set up shop.

Electro Purification acquired three contracts for water supply in an unregulated spot in the Trinity Aquifer’s Cow Creek Formation, just outside the lines of the Barton Springs District, Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District and Plum Creek Conservation District.

At a Barton Springs District meeting Jan. 29, residents near Electro Purification asked the district’s board to annex the property where the company’s pumps and their own land are located so it would be subject to the Barton Springs District’s more stringent regulations for water suppliers. Those residents are concerned that Electro Purification plans to pump up to 1.8 billion gallons of water a year, threatening the well levels and water supplies of customers in the three groundwater districts.

Legislation planned by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) would bring the land into the Barton Springs District boundaries, but not without a price. According to Barton Springs general manager John Dupnik, the annexation would mean the district has to dip into its financial reserves to cover expenses associated with the change. The proposed bill, if passed by the Texas Legislature, would also mean two new board members for the district.

Dupnik said projected revenue for the newly annexed area could fall anywhere between $130,000 and $600,000. The district currently charges permittees $0.17 per 1,000 gallons of water pumped, he said. Pct. 3 Director Bob Larsen noted that the district could raise the fee to offset costs associated with the annexation.

Board Vice President Craig Smith agreed, saying Electro Purification should pay “the higher going rate.”

Dupnik said startup expenses, including staff labor, external labor, equipment and possibly legal fees, would fall between $560,000 and $813,000. The process would also require two new full-time employees, he said.

After the startup period, the change would likely cost less than $300,000 to maintain, Dupnik said.

Board attorney Bill Dugat discussed the effect of the annexation on the district’s precincts. In addition to needing two new board directors, he said the district would be required to redraw precinct lines in time for the 2016 election cycle to account for the new territory and balance the population in each precinct.

Board President Mary Stone noted that three seats on the current board are up for election in 2016, meaning the legislation could potentially result in five new board members.

Dupnik asked the board whether it would favor grandfathering the approximately 2,000 wells in the newly annexed area or opt to force each well owner to pay a $300 one-time permit fee.

Smith said, “I’m not in favor of grandfathering anybody.” He said if property owners in the unregulated area want protection from the Barton Springs District, they should abide by the district’s rules and pay the district’s fees. “They build out in the boondocks, and now they want to be protected,” Smith added.

Pct. 3 Director Blake Dorsett said he worried about the repercussions of grandfathering domestic wells but refusing the same right to Electro Purification’s wells. He also said residents of the unregulated area should know they might have to pay $300 for a domestic well permit, and even then, the board might not be able to stop the company from pumping.

Stone said the board should save its discussion on whether to grandfather domestic wells until its next meeting. She also said a subcommittee that could meet more frequently than the board might be necessary to address changes to the language of the proposed bill as it moves through the legislature.

Map taken from the Barton Springs/ Edwards Aquifer Conservation District website.

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