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Hays and Travis counties prioritize aquifer conservation

Friday, October 25, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

The Trinity Aquifer is the primary groundwater supply for Hill Country residents in both Hays and Travis counties. But as a natural resource, its freshwater supply is limited, even as populations continue to grow.

Already, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is reporting that aquifer storage is strained. Continued groundwater pumping has reduced the spring flow and water levels within the aquifer have experienced long-term reductions.

According to BSEACD, to effectively manage these natural systems, both scientists and politicians need to have a deep understanding of how an aquifer functions. BSEACD is a groundwater conservation district charged by the Texas Legislature to protect groundwater resources within its jurisdiction and to advocate for science-based policies that will permit aquifers to be sustainably used so that their resources will last for future generations.

In 2004, the body completed a sustainable yield study for the Edwards Aquifer which resulted in policy changes to protect the finite resource. The changes in policy caused “a shift from historic permits to conditional permits so we can cut people back during dry times,” BSEACD spokesperson Robin Gary told the Austin Monitor.

Now, the conservation district is working to define the sustainable yield for the Trinity Aquifer and has received strong support for the effort from both Travis and Hays counties. However, the first step is to collect sufficient data.

For over 10 years, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District has been collaborating with the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District to amass a groundwater record. Although Gary said 10 years is just a drop in the bucket in terms of understanding long-term water supply, “We’re getting to the point now where we’ve got enough data we can model (the Trinity Aquifer).”

Still, more modeling is needed before the conservation district can undertake a sustainable yield study. To increase the available data set, on Oct. 22, Hays County approved an interlocal agreement with BSEACD that will involve the installation of two groundwater monitor wells near Jacob’s Well for water quality and quantity sampling.

Gary says that the Jacob’s Well monitoring is more directly tied to the needs of Hays County while Travis County will benefit from the new interlocal agreement by having more boots on the ground looking for potential monitoring areas in Southwest Austin, which does not currently have a groundwater conservation district.

In tandem with increasing the manpower investigating groundwater in this corner of Austin, on Oct. 1, Travis County approved the continuation of groundwater study for southwest Travis County. This area of the county is part of the Priority Groundwater Management Areas, which was established in 1990 to manage groundwater through conservation districts and prevent future shortages. It is also the only area that has yet been confirmed by its constituents through an election as a conservation district. There are currently nine other conservation districts in the management area that covers the Hill Country Trinity Aquifer.

The question of whether voters should confirm the creation of a new groundwater conservation district in southwestern Travis County will be on the ballot on Nov. 5.

Through increasing geologic investigations, aquifer recharge studies, water-quality analyses, aquifer pumping tests, and groundwater modeling, BSEACD hopes to fill in data gaps that will lead to conscientious policy changes and increasingly sustainable use of the Trinity Aquifer.

Aquifers are large and complicated systems, Gary explained, saying that only with enough insight from continued studies will policymakers be able to make decisions that conserve the aquifer’s water and manage the groundwater availability for everyone.

Diagram courtesy of the Texas Water Development Board.

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