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City asks water board to bail them out of waves of contention

By Stephanie Day

A full Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) board worked together amicably and handed down unanimous decisions at their Jan. 4 quarterly meeting, but failed to solve the City of Bandera’s dilemma over extending city water lines.

After holding their own meeting Jan. 4, the Bandera City Council adjourned from City Hall and went to the BCRAGD meeting, already in progress. Council members wanted answers about the ongoing water study being conducted by LBG-Guyton for BCRAGD. Task 3 of that study is scheduled to estimate pumpage for the City of Bandera and for the Lower Trinity Aquifer. Both the city and Flying L pump from the Lower Trinity Aquifer.

The developer of a proposed 120-dwelling-unit nursing home had been granted preliminary plat approval by Bandera County with the understanding that the City of Bandera would extend its water and waste water lines across the Medina River on SH 173 south (toward Hondo) to serve the proposed subdivision.

At its last meeting in December, however, the city council reneged on its initial support of the project and voted not to extend any city utility lines until a water study was completed and guaranteed that Bandera’s city wells had enough water availability for both existing and new customers.

Reluctance to extend the promised utility lines washed over the Bandera City Council after waves of protest from some city residents threatened to swamp them at their last meeting. Those opposed to extending city utility lines argued that the county remains in a severe drought and that city residents were asked to curtail their water use over the summer. They wanted guarantees that extending water lines to serve new customers would not rob them of their water supply.

Mayor Denise Griffin asked BCRAGD board members how long it would be before they completed the study that addressed water availability for the City of Bandera.

BCRAGD President Jim Chastain told Griffin that the study “should have happened 10 years ago.” He said he expects Task 2 of the study to be completed before the end of summer 2007.
BCRAGD Manager David Jeffery warned that LBG-Guyton could not complete Task 3, the information the city is waiting for, until it completes Task 2.

Chastain told city council members, and City Manager Gene Foerster, that “nothing but good” could come from extending city utility lines. “By reaching out to more people to serve, there’s less chance of pollution.”

Foerster added that extending the city’s utility lines would spread out expenses over more rate payers, thus protecting current customers from continued price increases.

City Engineer Rudy Klein asked BCRAGD board members why they had placed a moratorium on drilling wells in the city’s extra territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

Water board members looked at each other in surprise before Chastain explained that the water board had not placed a moratorium on drilling wells in the city’s ETJ. “The city came up with that on their own.”

City council member Lynn Palmer explained that the city had made that decision following “an outcry of citizens.”

Chastain said that pending the outcome of Guyton’s studies, the water board did not have enough information to know how much water the city could access.

Griffin said the council’s vote was to suspend a decision on extending water lines until it had proof its wells could sustain it. “That being said, you all as a water board can give us an idea of what our wells will sustain. Give us an idea.”

Bandera County Judge Richard Evans said that the Oaks of Bandera, a 76-unit apartment complex that is already filled, should give the city the added information it needs-based on how much the increased water use has drawn down the city’s wells and comparing that to the nursing home’s expected water use.

Evans added that the county had granted preliminary plat approval with the understanding that the city would provide water and sewer. He said the developers’ “clock began ticking when we granted approval with you providing the water.” He speculated that the county could face legal recriminations.

Griffin said that Foerster had obtained water use estimates from the nursing home and that according to the city’s figures, the water was available. Foerster also found that the city’s replacement of faulty water lines had resulted in 15 percent less water waste.

Palmer pointed out that the city’s problem was not so much in its inability to prove water availability, but rather that the city had “met with protests from some of its citizens.”

Chastain responded, “Protests from citizens, imagine that!” Then, on a serious note, he told council members that they could prove up the six million gallons of water they were saving and tell protesters that the water they were saving could serve the needs of the nursing home.

Palmer said that the protesters were misinformed. “Maybe if they came to these meetings…”

Chastain repeated that he thought the solution was simple. “You’ve saved enough water by fixing water lines to provide water over there. You’ve saved 15 percent-six million gallons-they won’t be using that across the river.”

“You’re talking common sense,” Griffin said, “we’re dealing with people who come to us and say we turned their water down this summer.”

Chastain responded, “If you’re going to wait until everyone is happy, it will never happen….we can’t have one study-we have to have 15 before they believe that cutting down cedar trees will help save water.”

Chastain also said that for the future, the city should consider supplementing water well use with surface water from the Medina River. Because of an agreement Bandera County signed with the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa (BMA) Water Improvement District, Bandera County is entitled to purchase 5,000 acre-feet of water a year from BMA. Chastain said the city could buy back some of that water from the county. “It won’t save money,” he told city council members, “but it will supplement the aquifer and help guarantee that during a drought we can still pump water out of the ground.”

Water board member Jim Hannah said that BCRAGD needed to complete the Guyton study for everyone’s benefit, including the city. “We need an inflow stream study. We have a river that’s really a creek.”

With a promise that BCRAGD manager David Jeffery would work with them, city council members left the meeting.

They also left without any promise of completed studies that could have thrown water at protesters to quench their heated objections to extending city utility lines.