San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 1st, 2009
Failed in lege, HTGCD asks county for funds

Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle), right, discusses water policy with Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District Board Member Andrew Backus, center, and an audience member, left. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

The Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) presented its assessment of the Hays Trinity Aquifer Tuesday and ended it by asking Hays County commissioners today to think of ways the county can reduce its dependence on groundwater.

HTGCD said it’s financially strapped and asked the county for $250,000, well more than the $75,000 it received from the county twice in the last two years.

“Our legislative effort failed, and we find ourselves operating with a diminished amount of income because the economy has cut down on the number of wells that are being drilled,” said HTGCD board member Jack Hollon (District 5). “That’s both good and bad, I suppose — it puts less pressure on the aquifer.”

The state legislation that created HTGCD limits the district’s revenue sources to new well construction fees and utility connection fees, both of which are capped at $300. HTGCD can legally require permitting of wells equipped to pump more than 25,000 gallons a day. Therefore, utility companies are required to hold permits, while private well owners — regardless of their lot size — are generally exempt.

Private well owners and utility customers each use about half of the aquifer. The failed legislation to which Hollon referred was proposed by HTGCD to State Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) and State Representative Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) in March. The proposal would have given the district more funding options and the power to require permitting of wells on lots smaller than 10 acres incapable of pumping more than 25,000 gallons per day.

But the two legislators did not support HTGCD’s legislation, and created another bill, which board members voted to reject in April. The legislators’ bill would not have increased HTGCD’s authority, and would have allowed HTGCD to generate no more than $100,000 per year for two years via a fee charged to utility customers.

HTGCD Board Member Andrew Backus (District 3) said last month that HTGCD needs about $400,000 per year to effectively manage groundwater production in its jurisdiction. He said the district currently receives about $80,000 per year.

Fifty-four percent of the county is under the authority of HTGCD.

“Our income is going down and we definitely need these operating funds,” said Hollon. “I think you have a grant proposal that was already submitted. All the grant proposals that we’ve made before were normally dedicated to scientific work and that sort of thing, but we’re going to need some help just keeping the doors open this time.”

Data supplied to commissioners by HTGCD indicates the Hays Trinity Aquifer lost 1,618 acre-feet of water in 2008. One acre-foot of water amounts to 325,851 gallons of water. According to HTGCD, the aquifer lost 289 acre-feet of water in 2007. In 2006 the aquifer lost 317 acre-feet of water, and, in 2005, it gained 10 acre feet. The aquifer gained 211 acre-feet and lost 244 acre-feet of water in 2004 and 2003, respectively.

“Our primary drought trigger in the southern part of the district is the Blanco River flow,” Hollon said. “We’ve got 82 years of data on that, and that water comes right out of the aquifer … This whole past week, the flow has been down in the four to five cubic feet per second (cfs) range. Which contrasts with a median that you would expect at this time of year of 60-70 cfs. The average would be even higher than that — about 150 — that takes into account floods and so forth that are in the database.”

Hollon said Jacob’s Well in Wimberley has “flat-lined.”

Added Hollon, “Essentially, we’ve had five or six days of no-flow at Jacob’s Well. The well itself looks pretty horrible. There’s still water there … but it’s covered with scum and algae and there’s no movement there. We just finished monitoring 40 wells in the district. they show an average five to six-foot drop in water levels during this past month. When you compare the water levels now with the water levels in June 2008, the 20 or so wells that are in Wimberley show a drop of about eight to nine feet. We have a similar number of wells in the Dripping Springs area … which show a drop averaging around 33 (to) 34 feet.”

After HTGCD Board President Baker solicited ideas from commissioners for slowing the aquifer’s depletion, Hays County Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) said the public must become more informed about water conservation strategies such as rainwater harvesting and water re-use methods. Ford condemned St. Augustine lawns, which require more water than lawns of other grass species. She said the most important step is getting people to use less groundwater.

“When I look at the data, I see that surface water should be brought it, but not in the way it was brought in in Dripping Springs,” said County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) later in the workshop. “Because that just increased the (groundwater) deficit.”

Earlier in the workshop, Jimmy Skipton of Henly entered the discussion, asking why Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation went from using 71 acre-feet of groundwater in 2005 to causing a 193 acre-foot aquifer water deficit in 2006.

Backus, also in the audience, chimed in: “There’s motivation to not use it even though (Dripping Springs is) connected. Because one costs them money. They get to sell the water, right? If their inventory is free, wouldn’t you prefer to sell that inventory?”

Backus said Dripping Springs began using LCRA-provided surface water between 2003 and 2004. In 2004, Dripping Springs contributed to the depletion of the aquifer by 51 acre-feet. Last year, the city used 625 acre feet of groundwater. Between 2003 and 2008, Dripping Springs depleted the aquifer faster than any other Hays County city.

“If you want to implement some market forces here, for somebody to be able to charge for groundwater makes it more of an even playing field, in a sense.”  Backus said. “I’m sure Wimberley doesn’t like hearing that, obviously. Nobody wants to be paying for something that was previously free … That’s why one strategy for funding a groundwater district is to allow them to charge some kind of a fee, because then there are consequences to the user for using more of that resource.”

HTGCD’s proposed legislation would have allowed its board members to implement a new well owner registration fee of up to $125 and a production fee of 17 cents per thousand gallons of pumped groundwater.

Pending county development regulations may set a minimum lot size requirement at 6.5 acres for developments served by individual, private wells located in the state-designated Priority Groundwater Management Area (PGMA). The PGMA is in the western part of the county and under the jurisdiction of HTGCD.

“You cannot divorce water policy wholly from transportation policy, from land use policy and broader society policies,” said Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle).

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0 thoughts on “Failed in lege, HTGCD asks county for funds

  1. Yeah, because nothing solves problems like throwing money at a governmental body. Short of a rain dance, wishing and hoping, or a divining rod, giving the keys to the vault to the HTGCD is sure to bring us more water.

    Maybe there’s a reason the lege keeps saying no to these people, or denied them full water code authority.

  2. Its always during a drought that these people seize more control and take away more liberties. In dry years the aquifer goes down in wet years it goes up. Will they relinquish restrictions, money and authority when the rain comes back?! These people want taxation authority. They want to charge you for a “free” resource they had nothing to do with. At least the water providers make an investment and keep the water flowing.

  3. For those who don’t understand why we are concerned about water conservation: Our aquifers are reliant on being recharged with rainwater. We only get so much rain per year (and its been shrinking lately). The population that relies on the aquifers is growing, yet we still only get a certain amount of rain per year. If we are using more water than is recharged, then we slowly deplete the aquifer. That is what is happening now. My well has been running dry intermittently for 2 months now. Asking residents to use less water does not work, unless you provide an incentive. Creating and enforcing realistic guidelines is not possible unless we have a well funded district that is given some regulatory authority. This is a case where we all need to sacrifice a tiny bit in order to ensure our commmunity’s quality of life.

  4. I’m afraid that YOUR philosophy and mine are diametrically opposed, Mr. Rutherford. You see, I, as a human being and the Master of my currently tyrannical government, do not wish to see the human consumption of water rationed or regulated. Government has my permission, however, to put restrictions on golf courses, perhaps the one owned and operated by TSU? That’s a good place to start. But as far as MY consumption of a God given life necessity, it’s off limits to government. You see, government is among the chief reasons why your well may be running dry (perhaps your well is not deep enough), as they have allowed the developers to bring in an ENORMOUS amount of ‘water users’ who would not have been here without their ‘incentives’ to big business. Perhaps we should put the restrictions on government, instead.

  5. Oh, and did I mention that those who advocate for this water rationing are taking orders from the United Nations’ Agenda 21 to take over all the world’s water and food, and dole it out in amounts that will barely sustain the lives of humans who are ‘allowed’ to remain alive?

    Please tell me you wouldn’t want this to happen to YOUR children, Mr.Rutherford… government isn’t GOD, no matter what unconstitutional law they want to pass.

  6. for those who live on the edwards zone and east side of the county this amounts to taxation without representation. To those on the edwards zone this is double taxation. The board members who voted to reject the funding proposed by the legislature are personally responsible for this problem and they should step down. The members of this board that said they were opposed to the proposed legislation because it taxed one set of users and not another and now turn around and ask for money from a very large group of non-users should also step down. Residents of Hays county who do not live on the Trinity aquifer zone should not have their tax money stolen by such a very small group of people from the western part fo the county.

  7. It is hard to believe that so many people misunderstand how our water system operates or what government’s role in this can and should be. This is government in its proper role as a way to organize and help planning for the future.

    Rose and Wentworth dropped the ball on the HTGCD because they were paid to do so by their developer contributors. This is plain and simple pay for play and the citizens of this county have been played for fools.

    Rose and Wentworth do not work for us because we do not pay them. We only vote for them.

    Representatives are paid a token amount of money to serve in the Legislature ($7000/yr) and this requires them to take money for their campaigns and other aspects of “serving the people” from their wealthy constituents.

    Did you give either of those men any money last year? Well, the developers gave Patrick Rose $300,000. Who do you think he is going to listen to and whose interests do you think are foremost in his mind when things like slowing down development by limiting how many wells can be drilled into the aquifer come up?

    We all rely on aquifers, one way or another and we all suffer when a shared resource is used unsustainably. This is not about pitting one group of water-users against another. We are all in this together, but some interests really do need to pay more attention to how much water their pet projects use up. Like golf courses. Like vineyards. Like large swaths of St. Augustine grass that nobody plays on, just mows it and waters it.

    If some people use up all the water, then some others will not even have enough to drink, water their small gardens, wash their clothes or operate their toilets.

    There is only so much water. Water is not unlimited.

    The HTGCD has done nothing but work hard to map, monitor and understand our underground water resources, not ration or try to take people’s normal water use away. This group of dedicated geologists and concerned citizens needs our help and since they are working for all our citizens, needs to be funded from the common pool.

    As citizens learn more about our shared water heritage, perhaps they will endeavor to protect it as the gem it is. We stand to lose our ability to even have groundwater in this area unless limits on put on overpumping and unsustainable uses of that water.

    We must protect our wells, our rivers and our springs. We are getting less rain and more people. This is a bad combination when it comes to water supplies, unless of course, you are in the water hauling business or have plans to pipe water in from elsewhere.

    For my money, I say let’s fully fund and fully-enable our local citizens, the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, to help us protect our water with good thinking and long-term planning.

  8. Maybe Bella is right and the gov has no place in the water arena. If water wasn’t regulated people would live where water was plentiful rather than the semi-desert of central and west Texas. The folks that are already here can pump as much as they want, waste it, whatever. The early bird gets the worm, right?

    Until then though, it seems a logical imperative that there be regulation. That said, who else is not the least bit comforted (or fooled) by the water rationing so hotly debated at last night’s council meeting? How many gallons of water will really be saved by this unenforcable ordinance? This is a place where market forces can be exploited. My suggestion – during Stage 2, raise the price of water for the heavy users. San Marcos already has a tiered system where the more you use the higher the price per gallon. I say, leave the bottom tier alone. The folks on the left side of the water user bell curve can be subsidized by those on the right side, that is those with an acre of San Augustine and 97 sprinkler heads that seem to be on perpetually. Like cigarette smokers paying their tax and funding god knows what, these addicts to the tropically lush green lawn can subsidize me and my minimalist “yellow let it mellow, brown flush it down” buddies. So during drought times, if you really need to have a post card lawn that’s ok. That’s better than ok because hey, we have a place for your excess cash. We can jack the price like crazy and maybe you’ll think about a pool cover or some xeriscape or some low flush commodes. When the revenues pick up maybe they can drop the price of water for me who never waters and turns the water off when I brush my teeth.

  9. Problem is, the area served by the Hays Trinity GCD, much of that area is populated by people, like myself, who own a small, residential well. We pay nothing for our water, except the electricity to run our pump. There is no financial incentive to conserve, save the internal controls of doing what you think is “right” and hedging your bets against the looming prospect of your well running dry.

    I do not waste water, I have a small area in my front yard that I like to keep green, most of that is xeriscaped and/or gravel. I keep a small patch of St. Augustine more like a large hedge than a lawn, just for grins. My neighbors are equally as modest in their uses of our shared resource, but we live near several vineyards and from Google Earth you can see that many of our land-holding neighbors have dams and ponds.

    Something has got to give. We are talking conservation in terms of watering lawns and serving water in restaurants and all the while, massive amounts of water are being pumped out of the ground by local large landowners for things like vineyards and ponds.

    Also, up the road from me in Wimberley, the local water supply company (not really local at all, part of a huge national water enterprise) is wasting more water through pipeline leakage than they are selling to their customers. About half of the water Aqua Texas pumps never makes it to a customer, but is lost along the way, and we are talking MILLIONS of GALLONS of water.

    Jacob’s Well has stopped flowing and has scum on the surface, but Aqua Texas, who draws from the same source continues to pump away and leak half of that onto the ground somewhere.

    Who is minding the store?

  10. It’s true this article focuses on well issues – I’ve just been looking for a place to vent on the irrational, ineffective watering restrictions San Marcos has imposed. As for you and your well, maybe the next revolution will be about water. I had curiously combative interactios with Aqua Texas when I tried to buy some lots in Woodcreek North. And everything I’ve heard since then has been horrifying. If empowering HTGCD forces AquaTex to shape up or ship out then you have my attention.

  11. This morning, the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District turned down Aqua Texas’ request for yet MORE WATER to develop a new golf course and more suburban sprawl.

    If they would simply plug the leaks in their system, they would have more than enough to satisfy these new customer’s desires for water, although I personally think maybe we have enough golf courses and lord knows, we could re-think housing patterns to better utilize all kinds of infrastructure needs.

    Water does not have to become a scarce resource if we manage it properly. I think that some people would like to see water become scarce so that it can become expensive, a manufactured scarcity like happens way too often in all sorts of commodities.

    This is not inevitable, we have enough water to live decent lives, grow food and still have places to swim, but we must use our intelligence and our restraint to ensure this is our future, not one where “water is the new gold” and only the rich and well-connected have access to it.

  12. Government is supposed to assist the people, not restrict them. Do any of you think they are just going to regulate the other guy? They will regulate and control us all, once you give them the authority. Drill deeper or build a resevoir. This WAS the American way. Most of the developers use surface water. Stopping development means stagnation and eventual deterioration, decreasing property values and eventual increased taxation. Who built your house? Devaluing peoples land by stealing their property rights is not a just solution.

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