Update, May 27, 2021: (for the very latest updates, please also visit our News section)
The Big Squeeze on
The long-simmering water war is boiling over again – now on sound management of groundwater in counties just 40 miles east of the Capitol Dome. This is the home of the supremely flawed $3 billion Vista Ridge public-private partnership.
Landowners and water watchdogs -- Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund and Environmental Stewardship -- have formed a coalition at WaterDefenders.org -- which is engaged in the 10 counties east of Austin whose aquifers are under siege to serve the "growth machine." Lots of hearings, meetings and events are happening. Be sure to visit our Events page.
The California Water Model & Costs of Growth
The California "water model" is mass movement of groundwater to fuel real estate development and growth in dry areas. These mistaken policies have exacerbated a serious water crisis in California. Drought is moving eastward to Texas. We do not need to repeat the mistake. And, though we cannot stop in-migration growth (lots of newcomers from California!) we can minimize the damage to our most precious resource by demanding that law, science and landowner protections are followed and strengthened. Make sure you visit our Costs of Growth Page.
More on the Long and Winding Water Story
In June 2020, just after Vista Ridge (the San Antone Hose) began mass pumping in Burleson County, San Antonio’s public water utility, SAWS, got caught dumping up to $3-4 million of Vista Ridge water. Wasting water is illegal in Texas. What happened? As reported by the San Antonio Report, a piddling $105,000 settlement was paid to the guys that permitted Vista Ridge, Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District. And the useless-as-boobs-on-a-boar-hog state agency – Texas Commission for Environmental Quality -- couldn’t bring itself to so much as levy a fine.
Now, our water future is coming off the rails.
Well, hello there….is anyone paying attention?
Currently, groundwater districts through Groundwater Water Management Areas (GMAs) are in process of adopting the Desired Future Conditions (DFCs), which they do every five years. This complex joint planning process boils down to something simple. The districts set the rules for pumping the aquifers based on what aquifer drawdown is considered acceptable over a 50-year period.
This year’s DFC process in Groundwater Management Area 12 (GMA-12, see below) is at ground zero for Vista Ridge impacts. Some groundwater districts in GMA-12 want to ignore the significant damage to landowner wells already underway within just the first year of Vista Ridge’s pumping on a 60-year contract. What’s more, they want to ignore the impact of Vista Ridge on surface water – rivers, streams and tributaries – in this case, on the Colorado River system.
Do Your Homework –
most of it has been done for you by Water Defenders!
Our friends at Environmental Stewardship and the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund, both 501c3 non-profits have been doing much of our homework on these issues. They formed the WaterDefenders.org coalition. Make sure you read all their stuff by clicking on the link below:
Visit LIV's Vista Ridge Page for a well-documented accounting of the drain on our water, our wallets and lack of accountability of a public utility.
Much continues to transpire on the Texas Water front so be sure to sign up to get our email alerts and visit our News section for all the updates in chronology.
The information posted below are for reference and history, to some extent, of the water saga in Texas and our country:
There is a longstanding feud between rural and urban interests over how to manage our groundwater -- the water underlying us in aquifers. Texas law, for better or for worse differentiates between groundwater -- as privately owned -- and surface water (rivers, lakes, streams, creeks) as owned by the state of Texas.
It was during the 2015 legislative session that a group of conservation and landowner interests, including LIV, dubbed a plan by Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) to move masses of groundwater across the state through a water grid, "Gridzilla". "Griddy" is a "water sucking monster" and all kind of wrong for Texas.
Gridzilla is a fictional character of what we also call The California Water Model. After 50 years of moving groundwater for real estate development in areas without local water supply, California is now scrambling to reverse these mistaken policies.
Bringing the California Water Model to Texas is the ugly baby of State Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) who serves as chairman of the Texas House Natural Resources Committee and Texas State Senator, Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), who chairs the Senate Water Committee. Senator Perry's district sits over the Ogallala Aquifer, so it's hard to understand why he would be a big fan of Griddy, but he is.
This picture of Rep. Larson's "water grid" from the 2015 session tells you exactly where Lyle's head is -- the IH-35 growth corridor. That's where the real estate lobby wants to send massive supplies of groundwater for hyper-development. The Texas "growth machine" has truly captured most government agencies and officials who buy into all growth is good. In turn they shape policies which incentivize in-migration growth while offloading the costs for new infrastructure (particularly roads and water) on current residents to pay for those not here yet.
The truth is there are many competing forces on water -- rural, suburban and urban -- and we cannot let monsters or bullies continue to divide us. Small "d" democracy -- the ability to build consensus -- is the underlying issue in all our work at LIV. It is especially true on our most valuable resource in Texas -- water.
To fully understand what is driving us backward on water policy, please visit these LIV pages:
- Costs of Growth section and watch the video of Austin developer-whistle-blower, Brian Rodgers. Rodgers coined the phrase "make growth pay for itself".
- Vista Ridge project section here, the most imminent threat to some of the most prolific aquifers in Texas, including Simsboro formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer 45 miles east of the city of Austin.
- Watch the "Cadillac Desert" documentary below to understand the California mistakes. (It's also a great book!)
What we at LIV believe is this. Texas needs is a serious investment in conservation first, desalination second and then...if and when really needed, movement of groundwater with adequate compensation to landowners.
Pretty soon -- within the lifetimes of the incoming generation -- the resource known as groundwater will be too costly to deplete if it's not contaminated first.
Contamination is distinct possibility with so little regulation of oil and gas activity -- and the "ticking time bomb" of abandoned oil wells mentioned here in the Texas Tribune. The crony-capture of the Railroad Commission by those it is supposed to regulate in the oil and gas industry is so complete that the Sunset Commission -- the most "powerful" legislative committee -- that reviews state agencies couldn't even muster the support to propose a name change for the agency. It appears that the oil and gas lobby not want citizens to know that there is in fact an an agency that is supposed to regulate the industry.
More To Do List:
1. Sign up for our email alerts and join our facebook page (both linked to the right).
2. Join or donate to the League of Independent Voters regardless of what primary you may vote in or membership in a party. Join here, donate here.
3. Watch the I Oppose the San Antone Hose video above about the "game changer in groundwater" -- a dangerous game brought to us by San Antonio's public water utility, San Antonio Water System. SAWS is a "shining" example of how NOT to run a public agency if you care about transparency, accountability and your everyday ratepayer. (Our news section is rife with well-documented and sassy pieces about SAWS and Vista Ridge, aka the San Antone Hose.
SOME ADDITIONAL HELPFUL WATER INFO:
Check out this excellent slide show on "Ground and Surface Water 101" produced in 2013 by Steve Box (Environmental Stewardship) and Phil Cook (Lost Pines Sierra Club).
Do you like reading the deep policy dive?
This 2013 paper written about the Prop 6 Constitutional Water Amendment is deep, well documented and written by one of the founders of LIV, Michele Gangnes, longtime guardian of the aquifers underlying Lee, Bastrop, Burleson and Milam counties. Gangnes now serves on LIV's Advisory Board (see her bio here).
Even if you've read the book, we highly recommend this 9-part video series, "Cadillac Desert". It's a must see if you care about water and learning from the mistakes of California, now in a major water crisis.