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2013-03-21

Water district approves new rules

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Despite the usual expected protests, directors of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District voted 8-1 to repeal certain existing rules and adopt a new set. Director Ernie DeWinne cast the lone vote against the action.
During a public hearing held prior to the meeting, Fidel Ramirez raised a concern that annotated copies of the proposed rule changes had not been made available to the public. He indicated he found it too difficult to follow the proposed changes.
Additionally, Ramirez noted that, as per state statutes, the changes had to have been made available to the public for "not less than 20 days before the vote." He added, "I suggest you postpone implementing the new rules until annotated copies are made available to the public."
Clifford Herbst endorsed Ramirez's comments, asking that the new rules be made more understandable as he, too, had been "unable to make comparisons." Herbst also disagreed with a proposed change that would give authority to BCRAGD Manager David Mauk to issue permits to wells able to produce up to 40-acre feet annually. Additionally, Herbst suggested that any fees collected from water exportation be earmarked for water conservation projects, such as brush control and water catchment systems. To allow increased public input, he also recommended changing district quarterly meetings to evenings rather than mornings.
"I also would like to see an annotated copy of the new rules with highlighted changes," Herbst added.
DeWinne made a motion to postpone action on adopting new rules until annotated copies could be distributed to the public and board members "for greater understanding." His motion died for lack of a second.
According to Mauk a 20-day waiting period had in fact taken place as per state statutes. The only person who had discussed the proposed changes with him had been an attorney for the Flying L subdivision, Mauk said. Additionally, he considered that the proposed rules changes came with sufficient explanations and, according to his definition, were "annotated." "No one questioned the proposed rules," Mauk said.
Director Jerry Sides' motion to adopt the rules after typographic and formatting errors were corrected was seconded by Director Karen Ripley.
Director Sid Gibson asked Mauk to give a précis of the proposed rule changes, which was offered with alacrity:
• Hearing procedures now mirror those set forth in Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code.
• In accordance with state law, hearings can be now be referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings in Austin.
• Enforcement was strengthened and improved.
• The fine schedule is now set by policy in line with Chapter 36.
• General manager can now permit wells that pump 50 gallons per minute with 40 acre-feet and under - an either-or situation. Larger permits still need board approval.
• Annual production limit is increased to one acre-foot per acre per year with a board variance provision.
• Differentiation now exists between current wells that need a permit and new wells.
• A permit for groundwater exportation is now required. "We cannot stop people from exporting water, but we can require a permit and impose restrictions," Mauk said. However, the charges are set by law and are merely "cents on acre feet."
• Geothermal wells are now registered.
• For reporting purposes, all permitted wells are required to be metered. Small wells that produce only 0.25 acre-feet per year may be exempted.
• Other rules were reorganized to close unintended loopholes.
Regarding the ability to grant variances, Mauk said most variances would be granted for construction purposes, such as for setbacks. "These wouldn't be granted after the fact, but in real time," he said. "We can't give variances that are against state law."
"In the past, variances that had been granted have caused problems," DeWinne said.
Sides noted that any variances granted should be included in the quarterly reports.