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City's water issues addressed, but not by P&Z Commission

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The City of Bandera Planning and Zoning Commission took up the municipality's future water supply options - a decidedly complex and knotty issue for the abbreviated meeting on Tuesday, July 10.

Recently, the city had initiated a dialogue with administrators of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) on that subject. The end result would be to make long-range plans to secure a sustainable water supply for future city residents.

As City Administrator Mike Cardenas noted, "There's no question but that the aquifer is being depleted. However, city engineer Rudy Klein has studied our water supply and it's fine for now. However, we have to look 10 years down the road and beyond."

Cardenas also referenced the periodic influx of tourists that contribute to the city's water constraints. "The biggest problem is delivering water to visitors on the weekends, but tourists are the city's economic lifeline, " he said.

ASR or drill

Two ways to alleviate future water crunches include drilling a fourth well outside the city limits or engaging in Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR). ASR requires a permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to extract water from the Medina River and inject it into a city well.

According to Hannah, the municipality already has authority to take 5,000 acre-feet annually from the river.

"This would enable us to 'bank' water during the good times. It's a known factor and it works," said P&Z Acting Chairman Jim Hannah.

However, Cardenas noted that the 5,000 acre-feet extraction comes under an agreement that the city and county has with the Bexar Medina Atascosa Counties Water Control and Improvement District. "We can't just take the water from the river. First we have to apply to TCEQ for a permit to take water from the river. That's what we're working on now," he said.

Of the two options, drilling a fourth well outside the city limits would be a less expensive proposition, Cardenas indicated, because the cost of constructing an ARS facility alone would be nearly prohibitive.

Let's do a study!

In short order, Hannah announced that planning and zoning members would "... take on the project and develop a report (regarding the options) this summer and bring (their findings) before city council."

In response, P&Z member Johnny Boyle countered that since the city had already started a conversation with the water district he considered P&Z involvement in the matter "premature." Boyle added, "I would like to see the city take the lead in this and give us information when the time is right."

In addition, BCRAGD General Manager Dave Mauk had noted previously that a viable water study would cost $40,000 to $50,000. He added, "I've advised the city not to embark on a water study until speaking with personnel from TCEQ."

During an interview, Cardenas said that Chapter 4, Section 213.001 of the City of Bandera Comprehensive Master Plan - "Infrastructure and Capital Improvements" - allows P&Z to discuss water issues. "However, city council would have to direct them to conduct a water study," he said.

Who leaked?

As the discussion continued, Hannah revealed information apparently taken verbatim from a recent meeting between city and river authority administrators. He even rather precipitously announced the proposed location of a well that might be drilled into the Lower Trinity Aquifer. Tapping water for the municipality from the Lower Trinity would prevent "putting hardships" on domestic wells in that area.

Historically, domestic wells tap into the Middle Trinity Aquifer.

Purchase of real estate for governmental purposes is usually discussed in closed executive sessions to prevent asking prices for the property in question to skyrocket.

Regarding the potential property, Mauk said, "We know the water's there and that the property's for sale."

Apparently, a water study had been completed as a requirement for a subdivision that never materialized.

Additionally, the city could reportedly utilize highway right-of-ways owned by the Texas Department of Transportation to install pipelines and carry water to the city.

Cone of depression

"It is not feasible to drill another well in the city," Mauk said, "due to the excessive range of the cone of depression. For example, when both the Flying L and city are pumping, the cone of depression extends to the San Julian Creek subdivision on Highway 173 South and north on Highway 173 toward Bandera Pass, he said. The cone of depression affects the draw of smaller domestic wells.

According to Wikipedia, "As water flows into a well, the water levels or pressure in the aquifer around the well decrease. The amount of this decline becomes less with distance from the well, resulting in a cone-shaped depression radiating away from the well. This, in appearance, is similar to the effect one sees when the plug is pulled from a bathtub.

This conical-shaped feature is the cone of depression."

In perfect world ...

Boyle asked Cardenas, "If money was not an issue and the city elected to drill a new well a mile or two outside of the city, how long would it take, A to Z?"

Cardenas's short answer was a year to 36 months. However, factoring in acquiring the property and required state permits, installing pipelines and upgrading the treatment plant, as well as exploring funding options that might include a bond election and issuing certificates of obligation, the timeline could stretch to three to five years.

"So, if we start now, it could be anywhere from 36 to 60 months to complete a new well," Boyle observed.

"I can tell you that some sort of process has been started," Cardenas responded to Boyle's satisfaction.

Other avenues that help alleviate the city's water crunch in the short term include an increased storage capacity, amounting to an extra 950,000 gallons and offering a $500 rebate for installing an approved water harvesting system.

"(Rainwater harvesting) is something we need to promote when sending out utility bills and doing a direct link on the city's website," Boyle said.

As a way of plucking "low lying fruit," local property owner Trina Ward suggested that the city offer free audits to residents and businesses to identify ways to save water - especially by correcting her bugaboo, continually running toilets and faucets in restaurants.

"I think we can do better with what we have now," Ward said, adding, "The city should tell commercial establishments they will be shutdown if the problems are not fixed."