Edwards Aquifer Authority District 11 candidates Mark Taylor, left, and Peggy Jones, right, at the League of Women voters debate earlier this month. Photo by Sean Batura.
In response to unrest among the citizenry and requests from elected officials, the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) is postponing enforcement of certain rules pending more public input next year.
In the spring, a group of San Marcos residents and others protested EAA rules they said infringed on their property rights. Some formed a group, Concerned Citizens Opposing the Edwards Aquifer Authority (CCCEAA), which has endorsed San Marcos resident Peggy Jones in her bid for the EAA District 11 board seat.
At a recent League of Women Voters (LWV) debate, Jones said “our biggest problem right now” is over-regulation by the EAA.
“People feel like their concerns are just going unnoticed and that they don’t have an advocate for them,” Jones said. “And the residents of District 11 need an advocate to help them with the issues that they might have with the aquifer authority or with staff at the aquifer authority. A lot of the issues have nothing to do with the protection of the (endangered) species, but have to do with simple regulatory concerns or administrative actions.”
Jones is running against incumbent Mark Taylor, who was appointed to the office in 2007. In the spring, residents addressed the San Marcos City Council with concerns about EAA over-regulation, and city officials contacted Taylor, who met with the residents at a standing room only meeting in San Marcos in March.
Jones and Taylor evinced disagreement with one another at the LWV debate regarding Carma Texas’ plan to use treated wastewater to irrigated a planned 18-hole golf course partially on aquifer recharge land at the 1,340-acre, 3,450-unit Paso Robles development proposed in San Marcos. Jones said she believes the treated wastewater would be clean enough for irrigation over aquifer recharge land, while Taylor disagreed.
“I am working hard to get their concerns addressed at the EAA,” Taylor said of CCCEAA members and supporters at the recent LWV debate. “I agree with Ms. Jones that there is some degree of over-regulation and it’s taking time to address that, and I’m doing my best to get it addressed.”
Some residents face possible EAA enforcement actions and related expenses regarding wells the EAA considers abandoned and, therefore, a threat to water quality. Other residents face possible litigation and other expenses for utilizing private wells serving multiple property owners (the EAA considers such wells municipal, not domestic, and does not exempt them from production fees). Some residents face possible legal action and fees for missing well registration deadlines they said were inadequately advertised.
In response to the residents’ claim that rules governing the aforementioned situations do not protect the aquifer and are burdensome, EAA officials are examining the rules for possible revision next year.
“Right now there’s a number of people that were in our compliance process,” said EAA spokesperson Roland Ruiz. “What we’ve done with those people is place them — basically put them on hold for now. In other words, we’re not moving forward with any action pending the outcome of these rules changes, and also pending some solution that we might arrive at concerning how we apply an abandoned well closure fund (to help people who cannot afford to seal their wells). Because we put some money in the budget this year for such a fund, but we’re still ironing out some of the details of how we would implement such a fund in an equitable way across the region.”
In response to some residents’ concerns, the EAA proposed rule changes in the spring that would have enabled owners of abandoned wells to temporarily seal them and pay a yearly $120 administrative fee. The current abandoned well closure rule requires owners of wells unused for six consecutive months to permanently plug the wells or buy water rights, either of which generally costs thousands of dollars.
During an EAA public hearing in April, District 45 State Representative Patrick Rose (D-San Marcos), CCCEAA members and others objected to the annual $120 administrative fee.
District 45 State Representative candidate Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) also opposes the $120 fee. CCCEAA endorses Isaac.
“What concerns me is that the Edwards Aquifer Authority even has the authority to do that,” Isaac said. “It seems like it’s a tax, and it’s something that the people haven’t voted on. The legislature gave them the authority to do that. It just seems like they’re overstepping their bounds. To me it’s bigger government, and I will definitely fight in the legislature to potentially strip them of some of their authority. It’s growing out of control.”
Ruiz said the EAA will reexamine the proposed abandoned well closure rule change, suggest further revisions and seek public input next year — in January at the earliest.
“We just don’t have the revised rules at a place where we can move forward with them,” Ruiz said. “Based on the comments we got, we feel we need to take another look at those.”
San Marcos residents Rick and Cinda White were among those facing EAA enforcement actions for drawing water from a private well serving multiple households. The well the Whites and five neighbors had been using was unregistered with the EAA, and no one was paying annual water production fees for it. The Whites said they missed the deadlines set by EAA for registering wells and acquiring water rights because they never received a notice advising them of those requirements.
After the deadlines passed, someone else acquired the water rights. The Whites said they thought they were exempt from the fees because they use the well water for daily needs.
EAA considers well owners to be exempt from permitting and annual fees if the wells are incapable of pumping more than 25,000 per day and if the wells each serve one residence for domestic purposes — day-to-day uses. Cinda White said she recently paid $9,000 to drill her own well to come into compliance with EAA rules, though White said she received word recently from the EAA that it halted enforcement actions.
White said her neighbor also drilled a well to come into compliance, and another neighbor installed a pump on an unused well to bring it back into service. Therefore, their actions to come into compliance with EAA rules resulted in an increase in the amount of water legally allowed to be withdrawn from the aquifer and an increase in active wells.
Jones and Taylor expressed support for modifying EAA’s rules to allow multiple property owners to use the same well for day-to-day uses and thereby avoid this kind of situation.
Early voting is underway and runs through Friday. Election Day is Nov. 2.