The following article appeared in the Giddings Times & News, March 18, 2016
County in Crosshairs as Water Wars Heat Up
“Anyplace that allows one person to waste their non-renewable resource so he can make a buck cannot last. Natural punishes stupidity.” So said a New York Times reader who commented on a recent article by Wimberley resident and author, Richard Parker.
Parker wrote from the viewpoint of ancient civilizations that disappeared when population outstripped water supply.
His topic was Houston-based Electro Purification LLC’s plan to pump five million gallons of groundwater a day---about 1.9 billion gallons per year-- from the Trinity Aquifer under Hays County.
Hays Co. citizens are outraged by well plan
Hays County government and many citizens are outraged by the plan to sink deep water wells in the “no man’s land” where the Trinity Aquifer runs under the Edwards Aquifer. That part of the Trinity is unregulated by two groundwater districts and one aquifer authority that have jurisdiction in Hays County.
Electro Purification’s customers for the water are local, but many landowners believe that amount of pumping spells disaster for their aquifer, their wells, and their beloved artesian spring, Jacob’s Well.
Deep-pocket opposition is threatening litigation, and State Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) is scrambling to pass legislation to stop, or at least cripple, the project.
The irony of Hays County’s reaction to EP is not lost on Lee and Bastrop counties. The Hays County connection to an ongoing lawsuit by Forestar Real Estate Group against our Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District and its board members is well-known.
Forestar alleges millions of dollars in damages caused by Lost Pines, despite being given a permit to export 4 billion gallons of water per year from the Simsboro under Lee County. Some estimates say that’s enough to serve about 43,000 households. But Forestar is demanding a permit for 15 billion gallons per year to export to none other than Hays County. (The Simsboro is a formation of the vast Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer.)
Citizens from our counties formally asked Hays County Judge Bert Cobb and his Commissioners’ Court two years ago to respect Lost Pines’ decision to reduce Forestar’s permit. They responded by unanimously voting to sign the Forestar contract for the full 15 billion gallons. Now that same Commissioners’ Court is outraged by EP’s much smaller project for 1.9 billion gallons.
Parker’s article described one commissioner publicly shaking his finger at EP executives and saying “We don’t want you here”. Apparently, the welcome mat is still out for Forestar and Lee County’s water.
Growth and population demands on the Simsboro became the paramount issue in last month’s House District 17 election.
Candidate Linda Curtis, a political independent and water activist, triggered a runoff with the locally popular slogan, “Stop the Water Grab”.
Brent Golemon, the underdog Republican, carried both Lee and Bastrop counties in the runoff with support from Curtis and his promise to defend our water supply.
Rep. Cyrier files bills to protect water here
Newly elected State Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart) quickly stepped up to the “water plate” last week by filing bills designed to both protect and help groundwater districts as they navigate the complexities of Texas water law and policy.
In the midst of that election and the EP fight, a Simsboro project in Lee and Bastrop counties for yet another 15 billion gallons per year emerged into the spotlight of controversy.
‘Recharge’ hires new team to grab water
Water marketer End Op L.P. has been reincarnated, with a new name (“Recharge”), new high-dollar investors, and a new team.
The team now includes Joe Beal, a former LCRA executive and current Bastrop City Council member, who ignited a firestorm last month in Bastrop County by appearing before the Austin City Council.
He urged Austin to move quickly to buy the “abundant supply” of water under Lee and Bastrop counties, which he assured could be purchased “pretty cheaply.”
Bastrop citizens show outrage on councilman
Local citizens and some of his colleagues on the Bastrop council were outraged that he introduced himself in Austin as a Bastrop councilman but failed to mention he also works for Recharge.
His connection to Recharge as a manager is confirmed by the Recharge website, and Beal testified for End Op as an expert last November in a hearing on End Op’s permit application to Lost Pines.End Op/Recharge has been pursuing a Lost Pines permit for years, despite having no firm customer for anywhere near 15 billion gallons.
However, Beal and another Recharge employee's testimony also claimed that Recharge’s potential customers now include LCRA, Austin, Cedar Park, Leander, and Round Rock, possibly through a primary deal with LCRA for resale to the others. LCRA is itself expected to apply to Lost Pines for a permit to pump over 3 billion gallons per year from under Bastrop County property owned by the Boy Scouts.
Aquifer targeted for urban development
Local water supply companies, along with some cities and landowners, already pump Simsboro water in Lee, Bastrop, Milam and Burleson counties.
The aquifer has also been targeted for distant urban development by water marketers Forestar, End Op, LCRA, Manville Water Supply, Blue Water Systems and even Alcoa over the last fifteen years. As a result, the total annual pumping projected for the Simsboro in all four counties is at least 90 billion gallons (275,000 acre-feet) over the next 10-plus years.
In contrast, Lost Pines estimates the total annual recharge of the larger Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer is only 2.4 billion gallons and 9.1 billion gallons in Lee and Bastrop counties. Clearly, that much pumping will result in mining the aquifer’s ancient stored water.
“No one disputes our local landowners’ right to sell their water, subject to groundwater district regulation of production,” says Lee County resident and ‘water grab’ critic Michele Gangnes.
“This ‘Gold Rush for Water’ simply reminds us that Lee and Bastrop counties are squarely in the cross-hairs of outside water speculators, investors, developers and other special interests. Hays County’s legitimate outcry for local aquifer protection while it waits to exploit Lee County’s aquifer, and Beal’s chicanery closer to home, remind us of the necessity of vigilance against losing our state’s non-renewable resources to those who want to make a buck. Otherwise, we might become the “anyplace” described in the comment to Parker’s New York Times article – or even one of those vanished civilizations,” said Ms. Gangnes. (Go to http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/13/opinion/the-southwestern-water-wars.html)