Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) and Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District President Jimmy Skipton at a recent meeting of the Hays County Commissioners Court. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
In their recently approved budget for fiscal year (FY) 2011, Hays County commissioners allocated $125,000 to the struggling Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD).
Commissioners earmarked $25,000 of the grant to educate residents about the district’s purpose and to encourage water conservation on the west side of Hays County. Commissioners allocated $100,000 for the groundwater district in FY 2010 after allocating $75,000 in 2009.
HTGCD officials say their district remains in need of funding to promote water conservation. Unlike other groundwater districts in Texas, the HTGCD does not have Chapter 36 authority under the Texas Water Code, which would provide mechanisms for more funding.
“We have hard costs that will consume most of the (grant) award, including: personnel, rent, field supplies, insurance, public notices, postage, Internet, telephone, taxes, accounting, auditor, information technology, and legal fees, etc,” said HTGCD General Manager Rick Broun.
Broun said he is in the midst of putting together HTGCD’s next budget and does not have a proposed budget available for public review. Broun said a public hearing on the budget is planned for Oct. 21 at the Wimberley Community Center, at 6 p.m.
HTGCD President Jimmy Skipton and HTGCD board member Mark Key appeared before the commissioners court on July 27 to request $182,000 from the county. Among that amount, the board members asked requested $30,000 for educational outreach activities.
In spring 2009, former HTGCD Board President Andrew Backus said the district needs “on the order of $400,000 a year revenue to do the job we’re supposed to do.”
HTGCD, tasked with managing the portion of the Trinity Aquifer in the western half of Hays County, was structured in 1999 according to the designs of State Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio), then-State Representative Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs), then-Hays County Judge Jim Powers (R-Dripping Springs), and others.
Had residents not voted in 2000 to create HTGCD, the state may have eventually imposed one on the county with all the authority granted to such districts according to Chapter 36.
HTGCD was created without the authority to collect ad valorem taxes or charge well production fees. The only way the district can fund its operations is by charging new well construction fees and one-time utility connection fees, both of which are capped at $300.
During the 2009 state legislative session, HTGCD officials proposed a bill to Wentworth that would have given the district more funding options and allowed an election to determine if it could levy property taxes on residents in its jurisdiction. The bill also would have allowed HTGCD to require permitting of wells on lots smaller than 10 acres incapable of pumping more than 25,000 gallons per day.
Wentworth and State Representative Patrick Rose (D-San Marcos) did not support HTGCD’s bill and proposed another that would have allowed the district to finance a study of the aquifer by generating as much as $100,000 per year for two years. The Rose-Wentworth bill would have authorized HTGCD to fund the study by charging a $2 per month fee to utility customers served by wells pumping more than 25,000 gallons per day.
In June 2009, after turning down the legislators’ proposal, HTGCD’s board asked commissioners for $250,000 for fiscal year (FY) 2010. The county instead allotted the district $100,000 in FY 2010. The county allocated $75,000 to HTGCD in FY 2009 and FY 2008, respectively.
An ongoing stakeholder-driven process, initiated by Rose and Wentworth, may determine what additional powers and funding mechanisms HTGCD will have. Rose said he will support whatever the stakeholders agree upon up to full Chapter 36 authority. As of the process’ inception, the stakeholders included 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.
Skipton recently said the stakeholders are “getting along,” and said a consensus seems likely, though he declined to elaborate.
On July 15, HTGCD board members voted, 3-2, to recommended an allowable increase in average drawdown of zero to 40 feet of the Trinity Aquifer through year 2060. Board members Key, Skipton, and Greg Nesbitt voted in favor of the drawdown and HTGCD board members David Baker and Joan Jernigan voted against it.
Baker and Jernigan cast the losing votes for a recommendation of zero-foot drawdown of the Trinity Aquifer. Baker is also executive director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, which, according to its website, “is dedicated to protecting our region’s water quality and quantity by promoting sustainable watershed management through community education, conservation, and land protection.”
District representatives of Groundwater Management Area No. 9 (GMA 9), which included Skipton, voted 8-1 on July 26 to allow for an increase in average drawdown of approximately 30 feet of the Trinity Aquifer through year 2060. Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District Board President Jim Chastain cast the sole vote against the drawdown.
According to HTGCD’s official minutes of its July 15 meeting, five members of the public, including Backus and former HTGCD board member Joe Day, advocated no drawdown of the Trinity Aquifer, and one person opposed no drawdown. Two members of the public advocated “moving slowly” or being “conservative” with regard to a drawdown recommendation. One member of the public, former HTGCD board member Jack Hollon, advocated maintaining spring flows and adopting a conservationist approach to recommending a drawdown.
Skipton said former HTGCD Co-General Manager Dana Carmean and former HTGCD Assistant Manager Kathy Balch resigned their posts the day he and Key joined the board. Skipton and Key were elected in May.
“I would have liked them to stay,” said Skipton. “I was okay with them. Very surprised they had quit. Wish they wouldn’t have. They were very familiar with the organization.”
Key and Skipton were familiar faces at the public hearings leading up to the adoption of the county’s current development regulations. The two men opposed aspects of the regulations, especially the provision stipulating a six-acre minimum lot size for new subdivisions served by individual private water wells located in the Hill Country Priority Groundwater Management Area (PGMA). The six-acre minimum PGMA lot size represents a doubling of the previous minimum PGMA lot size.
Skipton has a lawsuit pending against Hays County. Skipton alleges the county failed to sufficiently evaluate the development regulations’ effect on property rights. Skipton said that under the previous regulations, his 137-acre tract could have been subdivided into 1.5-acre lots. Skipton’s land is in the PGMA. Skipton claims the county failed to prepare a legally-sufficient Takings Impact Analysis (TIA), a document required by the Private Real Property Rights Preservation Act (PRPRPA), a Texas law. Skipton alleges the county’s TIA is insufficient on several grounds, including a failure to examine the change in minimum lot size requirements, which he said directly affects his ability to get a fair price for his land.
A PGMA is a region where the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) finds that people are experiencing, or are expected to experience, within 25 years, critical groundwater problems, such as surface water or groundwater shortages, land subsidence resulting from groundwater withdrawal, and groundwater contamination.
The Trinity Aquifer lies beneath the region of Hays County encompassed by the Hill Country PGMA.
Some of the water that issues from the San Marcos Springs is provided by the Trinity Aquifer, though most comes from the Edwards Aquifer. Some Trinity Aquifer water travels underground into the Edwards Aquifer, and some Trinity water exits the ground via Jacob’s Well, which feeds Cypress Creek, which enters the Blanco River. The Blanco River flows over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and thereby contributes to some springflow at the San Marcos Springs. Broun said he does not know how much springflow the Trinity Aquifer contributes to the San Marcos Springs.
“I will have to pass along your question to our volunteer geologist,” Broun said Wednesday. “We lost our staff geologist two weeks ago.”
Broun said the geologist was not fired and was not disgruntled, nor were Carmean and Balch.
“We know that there is some connection between the (Trinity and Edwards) aquifers, but we really don’t know enough to quantify it within any quantifiable amount — acre feet, or anything like that,” said Edwards Aquifer Authority spokesperson Roland Ruiz. “The other issue you have to contend with is — once water makes its way into the Edwards (Aquifer) — is mapping its flow path and knowing what direction it’s going. That’s why we’re doing a lot of the tracer studies, to try to map the direction of water flows in the aquifer. So, a lot more study needs to be done to be able to pinpoint that.”Email | Print