While water is an uppermost issue in the current Texas legislative session in Austin, the Capitol is surrounded by an escalating water war to which lawmakers seem oblivious. A recent standing-room-only public hearing in Bastrop held by the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District (LPGCD) was jam packed with farmers, ranchers and residents from across Bastrop and Lee counties. The LPGCD Board voted to postpone the decision on permit applications involving 55,000 acre-feet/year of groundwater until the next meeting when a hearing on an additional 65,000 acre-feet/year application will be held. (Note: if all permit applications are approved, that would equal nearly 120,000 acre feet per year or 107,000,000 gallons per day.) If granted, 90 percent of the requested groundwater will be exported to Travis, Williamson, Hays and Bexar counties. The final vote to deny or approve these massive groundwater projects is expected in Giddings on April 17th.
The Simsboro formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer is the target of the water marketers.
The bulk of the opposition at the Bastrop hearing came from landowners who fear the 45,000 acre-feet/year application by Forestar Real Estate Group will set an unwanted precedent for projects that will result in over-pumping the Simsboro Aquifer. Forestar has purchased the water rights of 20,000 acres – ten deep wells. Adjacent landowners are staunchly opposed to this permit, fearing uncompensated damage to their own wells in the short term and deprivation of groundwater for future generations.
The practice of over-permitting the Simsboro is already underway due to permits approved by the nearby Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District which covers the adjacent Milam and Burleson counties, to the tune of 111,000+ acre-feet/year. Dr. Curtis Chubb from Milam County, a journalist specializing in groundwater, testified in Bastrop that LPGCD had already approved pumping permits which exceed both the annual Simsboro deep recharge rate of 2,000 acre-feet/year and the 37,000 acre-feet/year of “available groundwater” for the Simsboro. He emphasized that if LPGCD approved the new permits, the depletion of the Simsboro would occur at a faster rate than has happened for the Ogallala Aquifer.
One speaker, Steve Baker of Lee County, revealed to Linda Curtis of Independent Texans that Bastrop and Lee counties’ own state legislator, Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, is involved in the Forestar groundwater plans. In fact, Baker is one of the largest landowners in Lee County, having arrived in the county just about the time he began with others prospecting for water leases Forestar now relies on.
The Governor has traveled the country on taxpayer dollars urging people to move to Texas. The Austin Chamber of Commerce and the City of Austin are using tax dollars to boost Austin’s rankings in national magazines, urging people to move to Texas. They are apparently not content to have had 132,000 people move to Texas in 2011-2012.
“Under the ruse of job creation and curbing unemployment, local and state government and irresponsible elements of the business community have put central Texas on a collision course with a the far more powerful forces of intractable drought and Mother Nature”, said Phil Cook of the Sierra Club. Cook continued, “If the Legislature really wants to help, they can require municipalities to do all they can to conserve water and fix their leaky pipes and water infrastructure, before they can even receive groundwater exported from other counties.”
Steve Box, Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship, which advocates for more sound water policies in Texas, forcefully talks how both Texas water policy and law treat surface water and groundwater as being separate from one another, while they are not separated in Nature. Box pointed out, “How did we get to the point where a potential disaster exists with a prolific aquifer like the Simsboro? No one can predict if and when there’s a tipping point in pumping the Simsboro when the Colorado River could start losing water to the aquifer, but the groundwater models tell us it is within the next 50 years. If that happens, there’s no going back. A million years of ecology between the river and the aquifer will be down the aquifer drain. That Texas governing agencies and groundwater districts don’t abide by Texas water laws is a nothing short of tragic.”
Curtis further declared, “Our political leaders seem to have forgotten that nothing exists for long without water. Neither should the political careers of those who refuse to understand such a basic fact of Texas life. It’s once again time now for urban, suburban and rural voters to unify across partisan lines.”
A 15-minute video on water and making growth pay for itself by Austin real estate investor and developer, Brian Rodgers, is on the home page of Independent Texans at Indytexans.org.