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BMA aims to lay claim to our water

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Aargh! Bandera County mateys! The pirate ship BMA appears to be loading its cannon to take a shot at claiming control over our water!

At a recent board meeting of the BMA (Bexar Medina Atascosa Counties Water Control and Improvement District), the directors voted to pay for two studies that appear to be the first steps in an apparent attempt to lay a legal claim to Bandera County's water.

According to an article by William Hoover that ran in last week's Hondo Anvil Herald, the BMA board "approved entering into a $9,500 contract with GLS Solutions to complete a study of all legal and illegal water wells around Medina Lake and the wells' contribution to dwindling lake levels."

Adding another pound of shot to their weaponry, the board "approved a $9,500 contract with URS Engineering to complete a study of tributaries and waterways in the lake's storage basin and their effect on flows into the lake."

Due to persistent drought over the last three years, the lake level has continued to drop and was almost 81 feet below the level of the spillway as of Monday, April 15. It is only 6 percent full. Designed to hold 254,884 acre feet of water, Medina Lake currently contains only 15,347 acre feet.

In addition to the depredations of drought, BMA has released water from the lake as recently as last month to provide water for the operation of the SAWS (San Antonio Water Supply) water treatment plant downstream. Water for agricultural irrigation ran out in the fall of 2012. The lake was created in 1912 to provide irrigation water to farmers.

As if the double threat of these proposed studies is not enough, Hoover's article stated that BMA Business Manager Ed Berger added, "The URS study will determine how many tributaries in the basin have been dammed up to restrict water flow from the basin into the lake."

Word of Hoover's article spread like a controlled burn that got out of control last week, as local officials voiced concerns about our water.

County Judge Richard Evans said he called [Bandera County's] State Representative Harvey Hilderbran within minutes of reading the article. "I was pretty livid about it," said Evans. "As county judge, I worry about our best interests."

In addition to speaking with Hilderbran's chief of staff, Evans is in Austin today to meet with the state legislator as well as with State Senator Troy Fraser to share Evans' concerns about water and other local issues.

"It seems like [BMA] is trying to usurp our governmental authority, when we're not even in their jurisdiction," said Evans. Commenting on the continuing rise in the value of water and water rights, the judge quoted Mark Twain, saying, "Whiskey's for drinkin', and water's for fightin'."

Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) is currently working with Hilderbran on passing legislation (HB 3898) to change its board election date to November to coincide with other local elections, thus saving taxpayer dollars.

When BCRAGD attempted to get a similar bill passed in 2011, BMA arranged to add amendments to the bill that would have effectively given their rules and regulations precedence over BCRAGD's rules.

BMA added wording to two sections of the proposed legislation, including the following underlined phrases:
"Sec. 8847.103. CONFLICT OF LAWS.
(b) To the extent of a conflict between the rules adopted by the district and the rules adopted by the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control & Improvement District No. 1 within territory subject to the rules of both the district and the Bexar- Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control & Improvement District No. 1, the rules of the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control & Improvement District No. 1 shall prevail.
(c) The Bexar Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control & Improvement District No. 1 shall be exempt from the rules adopted by the district."
BMA's explanation for the amendments submitted in 2011 said that "While the BMA's boundaries do not currently include territory located in Bandera County, the BMA may regulate certain activities and privileges on 'any body or stream of water, or any body of land, or any easement owned or controlled by the district' pursuant to Tex. Water Code, section 51.127(4). We don't want two water districts issuing rules that are conflicted, forcing the layman to choose which rule to obey."

There was no explanation as to why changing the date for electing the BCRAGD board of directors would cause a conflict with BMA's responsibilities.

As a consequence of BMA's meddling in 2011, BCRAGD opted to pull their election bill. During the 2013 legislative session, BCRAGD is once again attempting to get a bill passed to change the election date. As a preventative measure, BCRAGD has hired a lobbyist, Greg Ellis, to shepherd the bill through its various stages and defend it against amendments that would not be in the best interests of preserving the water rights of the citizens of Bandera County.

BCRAGD General Manager David Mauk and some members of the river authority's board were in Austin Tuesday, April 16, to attend a legislative hearing on the election bill.

Regarding BMA's sudden move to "study ...all legal and illegal water wells around Medina Lake," one board member advised that "BMA has absolutely no authority over groundwater in Bandera County."

Writer's note: For the full Hondo Anvil Herald article, "BMA Approves Study".