State Representative Patrick Rose, left, and River Systems Institute Executive Director Andrew Sansom, right, attempt to facilitate a meeting of Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District stakeholders. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
While it remains to be seen if the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) and Hays County legislators can iron out their differences, a process began last week with a plan to bring together stakeholders selected by State Representative Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) and State Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio).
At issue is the HTGCD’s regulatory and funding authority, which ended up not being addressed during the 2009 state legislative session after friction between the agency and the legislators. HTGCD officials had hoped to obtain the authority provided to other groundwater districts through Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code (TWC). When Rose and Wentworth declined to press for Chapter 36, they couldn’t reach agreement with the HTGCD on legislation and wound up offering no bills to address the district’s funding.
Last Thursday at Dripping Springs City Hall, the HTGCD boardmembers met to discuss the process. Rose and Wentworth chose Texas State’s River Systems Institute Executive Director Andrew Sansom to direct the stakeholder process.
“I think we need to come up with a recommendation for the senator and the state representative that will improve the ability of this district to manage its groundwater resources,” Sansom said, adding that the goal of the process is for stakeholders to arrive at a consensus rather than to achieve a decision via a majority vote.
Rose also attended part of last Thursday’s HTGCD board meeting, where he publicly announced his and Wentworth’s intention to support more funding authority and power for HTGCD if the stakeholder group so recommended.
“All options are on the table,” Sansom said to attendees of Thursday’s meeting, and Rose immediately followed with, “Absolutely.”
Rose said individuals and entities he and Wentworth chose to be in the stakeholder group each represent one of the following five interests: the conservation community, the community-at-large, the realtor or the business community, water suppliers, and elected officials.
The stakeholders include each current HTGCD board member, the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, Friends of Blue Hole, the Hays County chapter of Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Groundwater Association, Woodcreek Property Owners Association and Dripping Springs Homeowners Association, Austin Board of Realtors (which Rose said will choose a Dripping Springs designee), San Marcos Board of Realtors (which Rose said will choose a Wimberley designee), Wimberley Chamber of Commerce, Dripping Springs Chamber of Commerce, Hays County Builders Association, and Real Estate Council of Austin, Aqua Texas, Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation and Wimberley Water Supply Corporation. Also in the process are Hays County Commissioners Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs), Will Conley (R-San Marcos), Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley), and individuals (one per municipality) selected by the elected representatives of Woodcreek, Wimberley and Dripping Springs.
The roster of stakeholders approved by Rose and Wentworth did not win universal approval at the meeting. Nor did their handling of legislation concerning the HTGCD during the last legislative session.
“Now, the district, presented to you, Patrick, very good legislation last session and you refused to carry it, even though it was supported by a huge number of people,” said Jim McMeans of Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development (CARD) at Thursday’s HTGCD meeting. “And I think that what you’re doing with this list is you are orienting it towards a group that will come out with a recommendation that you want, which is to hold the district down and not let them be a normal district like 90 percent of the other districts in the area. You’ve left out three big, important groups that need to be in this. And the list is just a list, it can be changed.”
In response, Rose said, “That’s not true.”
McMeans said Rose and Wentworth should have included Friendship Alliance, Hill Country Alliance and CARD among in the stakeholder group. McMeans accused Rose of using the stakeholder process as “political cover” for the upcoming primary election.
Western Hays County resident John Cobb expressed support for the stakeholder process, though he warned Rose and Sansom that there would be no consensus.
“What about excluding somebody like T.P. Gilmore or a Randall Morris?” Cobb said. “Between those two guys they own more land in this county that probably a lot of other people combined. I mean, they should be stakeholders.”
Rose replied that if Morris and Gilmore wish to participate through the organizations represented in the stakeholder group, they can. Rose said the groups had already been chosen by he and Wentworth, with the support of Sansom, HTGCD President Doug Wierman (District 1) and HTGCD David Baker (District 4).
“The groups of people on that list, to say they’re diverse is an understatement … To say that they’re representative is fair, but the problem is, is that there are people like myself that believe that my property rights supersede everything else, period,” Cobb said. “It’s my property, I own it. I pay taxes on it. I ought to be able to do whatever I want to do with it. And then you have people like my neighbors across the street who think that I can’t run my well because their wells, which are 300 feet more shallow than mine, are running dry. And they’ll call over to (HTGCD General Manager) Dana (Carmean), and she’ll say, ‘we had 32 reports against Mr. Cobb this week’…I am guilty until I prove myself innocent.”
After the meeting, Baker said he “would hope” that more stakeholders could be added to the list identified by Rose. However, Baker said, the number of stakeholders would have to be limited.
“I think this is going to be a very open process, I hope, that allows for anyone who is interested and concerned about groundwater to be able to come forward and to give input and to be involved in it,” said Baker. “I would say any of these groups that were identified tonight would certainly be welcomed to be a part of this process.”
HTGCD board members approved the 2010 budget for the district before the arrival of Rose and Sansom.
According to documents provided by HTGCD, the district’s total income in 2009 was $164,280.71, and its projected income in 2010 is $143,080. HTGCD’s total expenses in 2009 were $177,876.25, and its projected expenses in 2010 are $173,107. Wierman said the district has enough money budgeted to operate in 2010, but no funds are available for contingencies.
The only way HTGCD can fund its operations is by charging new well construction fees and one-time utility connection fees, both of which are capped at $300. HTGCD receives most of its funding through grants and other sources. Hays County allocated $100,000 to HTGCD this budget cycle.
HTGCD was created without the ability to collect ad valorem taxes or charge well production fees. HTGCD’s enabling legislation also bans the district from requiring permitting of all domestic wells pumping less than 25,000 gallons, regardless of acreage, and the district cannot require the permitting of a well used for “conventional farming and ranching activities,” regardless of acreage or the amount of water pumped.
“I think this demonstrates the unsustainability of our current legislative mandate when we were set up,” said Baker. “We can’t operate a district and do what we’re required to do only receiving a $300 fee for new wells. That’s completely unsustainable. If it wasn’t for our grants, it would just be us here, there would be no staff. And I don’t see how we could operate like that.”Email | Print