Decision on LCRA’s groundwater permit application

Griffith League Scout Ranch, Bastrop, TX.

In another major victory for Environmental Stewardship, a final decision and operating permits have been issued on the LCRA’s Griffith League Ranch groundwater permit application that requires the LCRA and the District to monitor the impact of groundwater pumping on surface water as a enforceable condition of the permit.

For nearly a decade, Environmental Stewardship has had three primary objectives in protecting the Colorado River. The first objective has been to get a surface water-groundwater monitoring network installed in the river basin in Bastrop, Texas. The second objective has been to protect the river and its tributaries from over-pumping by limiting the amount of pumping allowed in the Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) within the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District and Groundwater Management Area 12, The third objective has been to get a surface water specific DFC adopted for the river.

With this decision, and the progress made by our WaterDefenders coalition in limiting the amount of pumping allowed under the DFCs, key elements of Environmental Stewardship’s primary objectives regarding protection of the Colorado River and its tributaries are set to be met in the next few years.

 Final Decision on LCRA’s Groundwater Permits

The LCRA groundwater permit application was submitted in 2018 and was immediately contested by Environmental Stewardship, the General Manager of Lost Pines (GM), and five other parties. After a six day hearing before two administrative law judges (ALJs) from the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) that took place in October of 2019, an order and final decision by the Lost Pines GCD Board of Directors was released on November 15, 2021, along with eight well permits.  The following is a summary of the findings regarding surface waters in the decision.  

In addition to the LCRA pumping being limited to only 8,000 AFY (they requested 25,000 AFY), important surface water protection conditions are included in the final decision and well permits.

Three parties, LCRA, the GM, and Environmental Stewardship, provided evidence and testimony relating to the issue of effects of pumping on surface water resources. Environmental Stewardship’s and the GM’s analysis both showed a potential for the loss of surface water to the groundwater formations in Bastrop County by around 2050. As a result, the ALJs required that the Operating Permits include monitoring so that the District can evaluate the potential impacts to surface water resources. [Final Decision, page 23, section B]

The ALJs went further by finding that all Districts are required to address conjunctive water management in their water management plan and in the adoption of the DFCs. Therefore, the cumulative effects of pumping can, and should be, considered as part of the District’s management plan, and that the possibility exists that the District could curtail all users if necessary. Therefore, surface water monitoring is essential to make those sorts of determinations. [Final Decision, page 31, paragraph 2]

The ALJs further found that Dr. Hutchison’s and Mr. Rice’s GAM models show that the cumulative effects of LCRA’s proposed pumping, combined with the District pumping base pumping, may cause significant losses of surface water to the groundwater system in Bastrop County. And that such loss would be a “persistent and substantial flow from surface water to the groundwater system” and thus would meet the standards set forth by LCRA witness Dr. Young for unreasonable effects. [Final Decision, page 31, Section c]

Finally, the ALJs found that the Well Monitoring Agreement with LCRA should incorporate any work plan added to the District’s water management plan. [Final Decision, page 48, paragraph 2]

Based on these findings, the permit includes a special condition that “the Monitoring Well Agreement entered into between LCRA and the District shall include wells, gages, or any scientifically supported tool to monitor surface water.” [Operating Permit, page 2, Special Condition 2]

This sets the stage for Lost Pines District to include a surface water protection component in its management plan which must be updated by 1/24/2023.

With this milestone, our goals are greatly advanced, and it is realistic that all three of Environmental Stewardship’s objectives to protect the river and its tributaries may be met, in practice, in the coming years.

Unfortunately, we can expect that there will be obstacles thrown in the path forward, so we will need to keep rising to the occasion.  With your help, we can get this done!     

Click here for a version of the Final Decision that highlights the surface water portions of the decision.