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BCRAGD board looks again at driller Powell

By Carolyn B. Edwards

Licensed well driller Robert Rae Powell, owner of Pipe Creek Water Well, has once again been the focus of an enforcement hearing conducted by the board of the Bandera Country River Authority and Groundwater Conservation District (BCRAGD). The hearing was part of the board's regular quarterly meeting held Thursday, Jan. 15, at BCRAGD's offices in Bandera.
Previously, the district had issued Notice of Violation (NOV) #14056 to Powell. The hearing was part of the process BCRAGD offers alleged violators to offer their defense. Powell was not present for Thursday's meeting. He was represented by his counsel, Megan Kucera.
NOV #14056 refers to a second well Powell drilled for a customer on property off 173 South when the first well he drilled for the man failed. Inspection by BCRAGD staffers found numerous alleged violations in the first well. That case is currently under litigation.
Subsequently, the replacement well also failed. Upon inspection, numerous alleged violations were discovered. The NOV listed violations of six BCRAGD rules for water wells drilled in Bandera County. Some of these violations also put Powell in violation of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) rules as well.
Among the violations for which Powell was cited were the following:
1. A failure to case, cement or grout to the surface a well drilled through the Edwards Formation.
2. A failure to case a well to the total depth, including a perforated screen across the producing interval.
3. A failure to case, grout or seal a well to prevent co-mingling between aquifers and contamination from the surface.
4. A failure to register a well before drilling.
Powell's alleged failure to prevent co-mingling of aquifer waters was among the TDLR rules he violated. The NOV also charges him with failure to submit an accurate well report to the state regulatory agency, with making an intentional misstatement or misrepresentation in a well log, and with failure to notify the landowner when undesirable water was encountered.
When the landowner notified BCRAGD that the replacement well had quit producing, BCRAGD staffers ran a camera down the shaft. "We found cracks in the casing," reported staffer Michael Redman, " and no grout behind the casing." Independent agency GeoCam also filmed the well and found the same problems.
When Redman showed the video during the enforcement hearing, multiple large breaks in the casing were clearly evident, with nothing between the casing and the bore hole but air and dripping water.
When a board member wondered what could have caused such catastrophic failure in the casing, another replied, "It almost looks like it was forced down into the hole."
Kucera said she did not know if Pipe Creek Water Well drilled the replacement well, but according to BCRAGD documents the driller is listed as "Rodger North, apprentice Robert Rae Powell," both connected to Pipe Creek Water Well.
BCRAGD's attorney Richard Mosty added, "Mr. Powell has previously testified that he was the owner of Pipe Creek Water Well."
The board voted to fine Powell and Pipe Creek Water Well a little over $21,000 for the violations, to be paid in 30 days.
Board member Karen Ripley argued unsuccessfully for doubling that fine because the well will have to be plugged. "And the poor man still has no water," she said.
Rodger North
NOV hearing
In a separate enforcement hearing regarding NOVs issued previously to licensed well driller Rodger North, the board voted to accept the payment of a $1,000 fine.
Mary K. Sahs, North's attorney, said, "Mr. North is very regretful he got caught up in this. He was trying to do someone a favor."
Mosty told the board that Sahs and North "have been very cooperative" in reaching a satisfactory agreement.
William McPike
NOV hearing
In a third enforcement hearing held Thursday, well driller William McPike answered to violations related to a geothermal well system he had drilled in Pipe Creek. McPike was charged in the NOV with failure to obtain a proper permit prior to drilling, failure to submit proper documents and reports to the district and other violations.
McPike drilled the geothermal well system under contract with Southwest Mechanical Services, headquartered in Bulverde.
"I have no excuse," he told the board, "I was doing subcontracting with the AC company and I didn't double check. I was told 'it's OK, no permits needed.'"
This is the second instance of a driller working under contract with Southwest Mechanical to be found in violation of the district's rules in a matter of months.
Board member Sid Gibson wondered aloud if BCRAGD's rules are so unusual that well drillers would assume no permits would be needed. "Our rules are not an anomaly," replied General Manager Dave Mauk.
It was determined that once contacted by the district about the violations, McPike successfully submitted everything the district required.
Board member Jerry Sides moved to fine McPike $2,000 for the violations, with $1,000 suspended with payment.
"Can we send Southwest Mechanical a copy of our rules?" Gibson asked.
"I'll take care of that," said Mauk.