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BCRAGD takes on government, increases budget

By Sandy Jennings BCC Staff Writer

Courtesy photo
BCRAGD's increased budget for fiscal year 2016-2017 includes an increase in water testing and supplies.

In another bold move by the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD), the board of directors authorized General Manager David Mauk to work with Groundwater Management attorney Greg Ellis to develop potential legislation regarding abandoned wells.
“If you have an abandoned, deteriorated well, that’s considered a public nuisance,” Mauk said during the Thursday, August 11, meeting. “In the code, it allows landowners to plug their own wells, as long as they plug them to the standards of TDLR (Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation).
He continued, “We’d like to at least look at the opportunity to develop a policy where the landowner would be the one on site and we would be the one assisting them in plugging the well.”
Board director Jerry Sides took it a step farther. “I think we need to do it where we don’t have to have the landowner’s consent,” he said. “The reason for this is we’re going to get into a well that eventually needs to be plugged that the landowner doesn’t want to plug and we’re going to have to enforce the matter and then we’re back to square one and you’re going to have to hire someone else.”
Sides explained that for 10 years they’ve been asking TDLR to allow water districts, specifically Bandera, to plug abandoned water wells. Even though TDLR agrees it’s a good idea for individual district staff to plug abandoned wells, they will not give permission to do so.
According to TDLR, the landowner is responsible for plugging an abandoned and-or deteriorated water well and only a licensed well driller and-or licensed pump installer or the landowners themselves can plug an existing water well.
“We’re plugging wells now, but David Jeffers is the licensed driller,” Mauk said. Jeffers is not on the BCRAGD staff. “It’s problematic for us to go ahead and get a driller license for a staff member because they have to apprentice for two years under a driller that’s already regulated.”
Gaining consent for staff members of the BCRAGD to be allowed to plug abandoned wells without landowner’s consent would mean changing the legislation as it now stands.
“I don’t care if we’re the only district with this legislation. I would love to see it across the State. I want to pass it as a local bill for this district,” Sides said. “This is part of our management plan, plugging wells. It’s approved by the state that we plug, I believe, five wells a year. We’ve been doing it for years.”
Sides spoke of the equipment already purchased for the sole purpose of plugging wells – an estimated $15,000 – and the board addressed the fact that the BCRAGD covers most of the cost for plugging wells.
The motion authorizing Mauk to work with Ellis and develop legislation to allow BCRAGD to plug abandoned and deteriorated wells without the landowners’ permission passed unanimously.
With projected legal fees and travel to legislators in session, along with aquifer protection, watershed protection, educational and community outreach and regional cooperative and policy planning, the BCRAGD voted for an 11 percent increase to their budget, adding $81,000 to their overall budget of $805,000.
Mauk reminded directors that they were forced to set aside $75,000 for legal fees in pending litigation. He also noted a $4,700 tax increase in BCRAGD property and the fact that they increased the amount of tests on Bandera County’s water supply.
“The fact that we have increased the amount of testing and the increased areas of water being tested is definitely an outreach to this community that I hope does not go unnoticed,” Mauk said.
The BCRAGD, with the Ag Extension office, will host a Water Resource Stewardship workshop in Utopia, from 8:30 am to 11:30, Thursday, August 18. The workshop covers four topics – Protecting the Sabinal and Medina Rivers, Groundwater Overview, Flood Warning System and Invasive Species.