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Conservation district releases draft rules

Tuesday, July 14, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

Staff with the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District recently released new rules to govern 170 square miles of unregulated territory. Residents will have a chance to weigh in on them July 16.

For the next several months, conversations discussing House Bill 3405 implementation will dominate BSEACD board meetings. The bill, which became law June 16, immediately placed a large portion of Hays County under BSEACD’s regulating authority. The new territory also includes all of Houston-based water supplier Electro Purification‘s wells.

BSEACD General Manager John Dupnik said the majority of BSEACD’s proposed rule changes are “narrowly focused” on the new area and help clarify which well owners are exempt from regulation.

“(The rules) provide the framework for a permitting process that allows nonexempt well owners to continue to operate under a temporary permit, and establish the path to smoothly transition into a regular permit in an equitable, fair and timely manner,” he said. “This annexation is a massive undertaking for us. This rule change will help us welcome all new well owners and permittees to a transparent, unbiased, science-based management structure.”

According to BSEACD’s drafted rules and bylaws, new well owners will be exempt from the permitting process if they have wells on lots larger than 10 acres of land, use them largely for agriculture or livestock purposes and use less than 10,000 gallons of water per day.

The third criterion will be more lenient for owners who have already drilled wells before the rule change: They can use up to 25,000 gallons of water per day for livestock or agricultural uses and still maintain an exemption.

If the rules pass, which Dupnik expects to occur at the board’s July 16 meeting, nonexempt well owners will have until Sept. 19 to turn in applications for temporary permits. BSEACD staff will be ready to accept the applications immediately after passage of the new regulatory guidelines, he said.

The conservation district has agreed to implement a two-part permit application process, hopefully to speed up the regulatory process, Dupnik said. A resident’s application for a temporary permit simultaneously starts the application process for a regular, permanent permit.

However, according to the district’s rules and bylaws, the amount of usable water granted under a temporary permit may be reduced in the regular permit. BSEACD may reduce the production capacity if it determines that the capacity under the temporary permit inhibits an aquifer’s long-term water-level goal — known as the Groundwater Management Area’s “desirable future conditions” — or if it causes unreasonable impacts to existing wells.

Dupnik said the district should issue temporary permits less than 30 days after an application is submitted. A regular permit should be issued within 180 days to better govern water use, but more time can also be allotted if well owners contest BSEACD’s ruling.

To be eligible for a temporary permit, owners must have wells that were already in operation or under contract before June 19. The conservation district will expedite the temporary permitting process and allow temporarily permitted wells to produce up to their maximum capacity after an owner’s application is processed. The permits are not subject to many of the conservation district’s more stringent regulations, such as production curtailments in drought-like conditions, but owners must document wells’ beneficial use, meter wells within 30 days and provide monthly water meter readings to the district.

Dupnik said district board members had some difficulty with the limitations HB3405 placed on the regular permitting process. HB3405 significantly limits reasons the board can use to reduce or deny regular permits in the Hays County area. It can look only at whether the wells affect desirable future conditions or harm surrounding wells when making permitting decisions.

The conservation district is planning to convene a town hall meeting to introduce BSEACD to the Hays County area, Dupnik told the Austin Monitor. The time and date have not been set, but it will most likely be the week of Aug. 3, he added.

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Map courtesy of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District

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