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TWDB to decide 'desired' future of Trinity Aquifer on March 1

Courtesy Wimberley Valley Watershed Association

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) was scheduled to review two challenges and decide on the reasonableness of the Desired Future Conditions for the Trinity Aquifer in the Texas Hill Country at their Feb. 1 board meeting. At the request of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association (WVWA), the board president granted a continuance yesterday and moved the agenda item to the March 1 scheduled board meeting.

TWDB is expected to rule on a protest to the Desired Future Condition (DFC) goal adopted by GMA 9, a goal that some argue is not sustainable. The proposed DFC allows for an average of 30 feet of additional groundwater decline over the next 50 years (an average of 19 feet across Hays County).

Due to the fact that it takes only a 2 to 3 feet drop in aquifer level above Jacob's Well to cause the spring to stop flowing, WVWA appealed the ruling to the TWDB on the grounds that this level of decline is unreasonable and unsustainable as it fails to protect the flow of water to individual well owners and to the springs and creeks that are the economic engines of the Hill Country.

The impacts of this action threaten not only public treasures like Jacob's Well, but the productivity of private and public drinking water supply wells and natural springs across the region. The WVWA is not alone. Public comments recorded at numerous meetings throughout the Hill Country over the past five years showed the public's overwhelming desire to set Desired Future Conditions with a goal of zero drawdown on the aquifers. One hundred and sixty interested parties filed 777 pages of notarized statements with the TWDB in support of WVWA's appeal.

Flying L Guest Ranch appeal

In addition to the appeal by WVWA, TWDB will also consider and rule on an appeal of the DFC petition that was filed by the developers of the Flying L Guest Ranch, Ltd in Bandera County. In their appeal, Flying L argued that the proposed DFC allowed for too little drawdown and would make it difficult for groundwater districts to guarantee existing permitted uses.

TWDB staff released a 65 page briefing memo on Jan. 25 that outlines the two petitions and recommends that the proposed 30' DFC is somehow reasonable, even though it will allow a large increase in aquifer pumping and most likely cause Jacob's Well spring and other springs across the region to stop flowing for longer periods of time.

The staff memo bases its argument of "reasonableness" mainly on the fact that the process that GMA9 followed to adopt the DFC was administratively complete and met all of the legal requirements in terms of what was considered in its adoption.

The TWDB report notes that "the
statutes do not contain a requirement that the DFC ensure the aquifer is managed sustainably."

What the memo does not adequately address, however, is the massive amount of technical information and scientific evidence presented by WVWA that demonstrates the many negative impacts that such a large drawdown in the aquifer will have on the Wimberley Valley, its economic base, and its natural resources.

Such negative impacts include domestic (privately owned) wells going dry more frequently under even short periods of dry weather, not just with severe droughts; Jacob's Well and Cypress Creek flowing only intermittently, except in wet years; a reduction in income for businesses throughout the Hill Country that rely on a flowing river to draw people to their doors; and a reduction of sub surface flows from the Trinity to the Edwards Aquifer, recharge that sustains Barton Springs during times of severe drought.

In their recommendation, TWDB staff state that "the reasonableness of the DFC with respect to socio-economic impacts, environmental impacts, and the exercise of personal property rights will depend on the way in which the Districts incorporate the MAG into their management plans and rules and make related decisions regarding permit authorizations and administration."

The report does not seem to consider the significant impact that the DFC and the associated large increase in pumping will have in an area that is already experiencing groundwater decline under current pumping.

Role of local GCDs

Local Groundwater Conservation Districts are the State's preferred method of groundwater management, but it is important that state and regional planners provide much-needed leadership for balancing the very complex issues involved in groundwater management. The WVWA encourages the TWDB members to consider advising GMA 9 to revise the DFC in Hays County to address the needs of private landowners and businesses reliant on flowing springs and rivers.

The current board of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) has not proven itself trustworthy in the task of balancing these competing needs. They have continued to issue new permits in the absence of an approved MAG (including a new golf course next to Jacob's Well), and voted for an aquifer drawdown that will ultimately compromise the economic security of the Wimberley Valley and its future water supplies.

Regardless of how the TWDB Board rules on March 1, their decision is not binding on the GMA 9 or the local Districts.

This makes it imperative that residents and landowners hold their District accountable for managing our groundwater in a sustainable way and oppose aquifer mining. Board members of local GCD's must understand the limitations of the Groundwater Availability Model and take responsibility for impacts of their decisions on the economy, environment, and private property rights of their constituents.

TWDB is scheduled to hear arguments and rule on the DFC appeals at their board meeting March 1 at 10:30am.

WVWA encourages residents and concerned citizens across the region to attend the meeting on March 1 to show support for adoption of a new DFC that will sustainably manage the Wimberley Valley's precious groundwater resources, one that protects local drinking water supplies, Jacob's Well, Blue Hole and the future of Cypress Creek. If you cannot attend the meeting, please email the TWDB at boardmembers@twdb.texas.gov with your comments.

The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 1, at 10:30 am in the Stephen F. Austin Building, 1700 N. Congress, Room 170, Austin.