by ASHLEY SAVA
AUSTIN — Expansion of the boundaries of the Barton Springs-Edwards Aquifer Conservation District to cover a section of unprotected groundwater in Hays County is one step closer to becoming law, according to a statement from State Rep. Jason Isaac.
House Bill 3405, authored by the Dripping Springs Republican, was passed 126-15 on May 8 by the Texas House of Representatives following a third reading. Agricultural and residential wells are exempt from HB 3405, according to Isaac.
In March, Isaac filed the bill in response to Electro Purification’s plan to pump up to five million gallons of water per day from an unregulated portion of the Cow Creek Formation of the Middle Trinity Aquifer.
EP’s test wells are located in eastern Hays County in an area often referred to as a “white zone”, which is not under the protection of a ground water conservation district.
“This is great news for residents of Blanco and Hays County and ensures necessary measures will be taken to protect an environmentally sensitive area of the Trinity Aquifer,” Isaac said in a written statement.
One hurdle remains for HB 3405 to take effect. Senate Bill 1440, the companion version of Isaac’s bill, was introduced by Senator Donna Campbell. If passed, the law will go into effect on September 1, or immediately after a vote of two-thirds from each chamber.
“We have a few more steps to go before full passage, but we are definitely moving in the right direction,” Isaac’s release said.
A Texas senator from Lubbock made news recently regarding the issue. Senator Charles Perry, who chairs the Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs Committee, appears to be blocking SB 1440, according to Isaac.
But Isaac believes the bills in the house and senate regarding expansion of the BSEACD are local.
“It is very unique when you have people that are playing in other member’s local business,” Isaac said in a recent on-air interview on AM 580 / 87.7 FM, a Lubbock radio station talk show.
Isaac told the radio hosts of “The West Texas Drive” that EP is actively working to lobby senators against passage of the bill.
“The money they [EP] are spending on lobbyists is unbelievable,” he said.
He said Goforth SUD and the city of Buda are also spending money on lobbying against the senate bill.
Isaac said Perry is trying to add language to Campbell’s bill that Isaac disagrees with strongly. Isaac also said he if a revised bill passes the Senate, he will try to clean up the language before the House votes on it.
Perry went on the same radio talk show to dispute Isaac’s assertion that it’s a local issue. He also discussed changes to Campbell’s bill that would allow science to be the determining factor, not emotions or political wrangling.
“Both sides of the issue believe the science should be the determining factor,” he said.
One host asked, “Isn’t this [bill] essentially grandfathering in Electro Purification?”
Perry said EP would be grandfathered in based on the same terms and conditions as other well owners.
EP previously told the Hays Free Press that it is not afraid of regulation of groundwater, their only issue is the timing of the legislation and how that might affect their ability to prove up their ability to meet customers’ needs based on contracts with EP.
According to Isaac, final passage of the bill will guarantee that Hays County will have protection for the Edwards and Trinity aquifers. He said this protection will be possible without additional property taxes.
“Furthermore, this protection will ensure that your private property will not be taken out from under you,” Isaac said.
EP emailed a statement Sunday evening in response to the legislation already passed and that awaiting passage.
“We …are not opposed to the Buda-Goforth well project being included in a Ground Water District such as the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation Diistrict,” the statement said.
It continued, “EP, the City of Buda and Goforth SUD were not invited to participate in the drafting of the original bill.”
Three weeks ago, according to the statement, “those left out of discussions finally had a chance to share their concerns.”
EP’s statement referenced a similar bill put forth by Campbell for Comal County, SB 963, that bill would create a groundwater conservation district covering the Middle Trinity in Comal County, but according to EP, would exempt New Braunfels from a $12 million pipeline project.
The statement said, “There is no such treatment of $15 million pipeline project for Buda and Goforth in the Hays County version [of Campbell’s bill]. We think this is wrong.”
EP’s statement went on characterize the differences between to the two bills as a fairness issue.
“The bill’s similarities to the Hays County situation is almost identical (SB 1440),” the statement said. “Both cover the ‘white zones’. Both cover the Middle Trinity aquifer. Both have an existing project that allows a municipality to bring water via pipeline to the city.”
It concluded, “Why should one city be rewarded and one group be punished? Buda and Goforth will need water by 2017 affecting more than 30,000 Hays County residents. EP has a project that can achieve that goal. We don’t ask for special treatment, only fair treatment. The New Braunfels model should apply to Buda-Goforth as well.”
ASHLEY SAVA reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. Hays Free Press editor KIM HILSENBECK contributed to this report. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.
COVER PHOTO by CHRIS VREELAND. SAN MARCOS MERCURY GRAPHIC by BRAD ROLLINS.Email | Print