As groundwater pumping destroys domestic wells, threatening rivers and streams, Districts vote for more and deeper mining of aquifers.

Figure 1. Groundwater Management Area 12

While still in an unsettled debate, and with time to spare before the May deadline, the five representatives to Groundwater Management Area 12 from the local Groundwater Districts  voted to propose new desired future conditions (DFCs).  Unfortunately these proposed DFCs — which will be the subject of an upcoming 90-day review period — will lead to more and deeper mining of the aquifers.  Dozens, if not  hundreds, of exempt domestic wells in Burleson and Lee counties are already going dry or having to be re-worked due to Vista Ridge pumping and surface waters throughout the area are predicted to be drastically impacted by the proposed new desired future conditions favored by the Districts. To make matters worse, the Districts have forced one of its members, Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District, to make adjustments that will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for that District to curtail Vista Ridge pumping if needed in order to remedy the domestic well problem.

Fortunately, at Environmental Stewardship’s request, the representatives have scheduled an April 20, 2021, meeting to discuss unfinished business regarding surface water protections and monitoring.   Though we are pleased that an additional meeting has been scheduled on surface waters, we remains concerned about the impacts of the proposed DFCs will have on both surface waters and landowners’ domestic wells.

From the discussion at the March 18  meeting (see video below) it appears that if the proposed new DFC are adopted by the Districts, a precedent will be set that will require that all know permitted pumping must be added to the DFCs at every review.  The impact will be to allow, at each review, deeper mining of the aquifers and render curtailment of future pumping improbable if not impossible, even if the pumping is causing damage to domestic and livestock wells or damage to rivers and streams within the Districts.

Ogallala style mining of the aquifers under our counties will be the future we will be facing.

Unfortunately, the Groundwater Districts — the Districts that are charged with protecting and conserving the groundwater that landowners own as real property — have had a history of making policy decisions that protect existing pumping permits without truly balancing their decisions with policies and actions that protect landowners and surface waters.   If allowed, these policies — and the resulting desired future conditions that govern pumping — will bring about unfettered and exploitation by water marketers at the expense of landowners and the environment. The up-coming 90-day public review period is our last chance to affect change through our Groundwater Districts.

Surface water proposal discussed at April 20, 2021 meeting

“Things are in disarray, with disagreements on several important issues that will have serious consequences” said Steve Box, President of Environmental Stewardship. “Fortunately, we now have an opportunity to have a frank discussion with the five representatives about our proposal to remedy the surface water issues.”   This latest proposal is in response to the representatives’ objections to our earlier proposal.

Watch and listen as Steve Box and Joe Trungale out Environmental Stewardship’s concerns regarding the impact of the Proposed DFCs on the Colorado River (17 minutes). Then George Rice introduces our ES’ proposed solution — monitoring of the Colorado Alluvium Aquifer (9 minutes), and our proposal on how to develop and adopt desired future conditions for the alluvium aquifer (10 minutes).  Finally, hear the discussion by the representatives where the presentation is call “compelling”.

Environmental Stewardship lays out scientific basis for monitoring and developing DFCs for the River

Environmental Stewardship filed its initial scientific basis for its request for surface water DFCs at the October 28, 2020 meeting and made a presentation on its request at the December 10, 2020 meeting. Here is a video of the December presentation to the GMA-12 District Representatives.

As the District Representatives moved toward adopting DFCs that predicted unreasonable impacts on the Colorado and Brazos Rivers and tributaries, Environmental Stewardship made a presentation at the January 15, 2021 meeting requesting that surface water impacts be included in all susbequent presentations by the District’s consultants on proposed desired future conditions.   We were concerned that the issue of unreasonable impacts to surface waters stay in front of the representatives while considering new proposed DFCs. Here is a video of the January 15 presentation to the GMA-12 District Representatives.

 

Historical estimates and the predicted future of the Colorado River due to groundwater pumping

The impact of the proposed new DFCs on the Colorado and Brazos Rivers and tributaries will be as consequential, but will not be as easy to see until we have our next major drought.  During the 1930’s through about 1995 there was very little pumping of the aquifers in our area. Over thousands, if not millions of years, the ecological balance between our rivers, streams and groundwater were established.  That balance meant that the artesian aquifers in our area contributed groundwater to our rivers and streams.   This period of time is referred to as the “pre-development period” in hydrological terms.

These historic and predicted impacts are depicted in the Figure below.

Figure:  Groundwater Discharge to the Colorado River, depicts the impact of the proposed new DFCs (Red line, PS-12) on the Colorado River as compared to the current DFCs (Blue line, DFC Run3).

Starting in the mid 1990’s groundwater pumping operations, such as the Alcoa mining operation and numerous municipal water supply corporations, were developed.  The groundwater pumping during this early “development period” meant that less groundwater entered the rivers and streams.  The best scientific estimates are that the amount of groundwater flowing into the Colorado River decreased from about 30,000 acre-feet per year in the  pre-development period, to about 20,000 acre-feet per year by about 2010; a 10,000 acre-feet per year, or 35% decrease in outflow.  The river, however, continued to be classified as  a “gaining stream” since it continued to gain water from the aquifers as it flowed through Bastrop and Fayette counties.

During the 2010 to 2020 period, the development that has led to mega sized groundwater pumping permits was well underway and the legislature instructed groundwater districts to start “joint planning” to adopt what are called desired future conditions, or DFCs, for the aquifers.  These are the conditions that groundwater districts are required to use as their management goals.  They can allow up-to these quantitative values, but once the DFCs are exceeded, the districts can [must] require curtailment of pumping to get back to the adopted DFCs. In many cases the DFCs are measured in feet of aquifer drawdown as measured in monitoring wells.

To help groundwater districts do joint-planning, groundwater availability models (GAMs) were developed by the Texas Water Development Board.  These GAMS are used as a management tool in setting desired future conditions.  At first these tools were somewhat crude, but many — like the one used by our districts — have been greatly improved recently.  The model used by our Districts was revised very recently to improve its ability to predict the impacts of groundwater pumping on surface waters.  The GAM is used to predict the impact of pumping — input into the model by way of a “pumping file” — to set DFCs and to predict whether or not proposed pumping will exceed the DFCs, thus requiring curtailment.

The proposed DFCs that are being considered for adoption later this year predict potentially catastrophic impacts on the Colorado River that would be most evident during drought.  For example, during the last drought the river reached a low flow point in September 2011.  The river was in a stage called “subsistence flow” where the State mandated flow limits needed to get the river and its inhabitants through the drought in good enough condition to rebound after the drought was narrowly maintained.  Based on the scientific estimates, the river was getting about 37% less groundwater inflow than it would have been getting in the 1930-1990’s pre-development period.

The improved GAM — agreed by most to be the best model and best science available to our Districts — predicts that the proposed DFCs will cause outflows of groundwater to the river to decline by another 31,600 acre-feet per year by the year 2070 — a whopping 114% less water than during pre-development.  Under this scenario the Colorado River is predicted to start losing surface water to the aquifers by around 2050 at a rate of 10,000 acre-feet per year  by 2070 — thus becoming a “losing” stream.  This means that, during another drought period like our region experienced in 2009-12, the Colorado river would be getting about 114% less water than it received during the pre-development period.  This sets up a scenario where the river could go dry or get very close.  Certainly, the river’ resilience to drought will have been depleted and its ability to bounce back to an ecologically sound environment will have been destroyed.  As with the last drought, the normal releases from the Highland Lakes to provide environmental flows down-stream of Austin would likely be curtailed by an emergency order.

Districts impose management conditions that limit ability to curtail Vista Ridge pumping of the Carrizo Aquifer

An important discussion took place at the March 18 meeting of the District Representatives leading to a 4-1 vote on the new Proposed DFCs.   Early in the meeting Steve Box made comments to the representatives about the surface water proposal that was submitted the day before.  Then the representatives took up a discussion of the controversial Scenario S-12 and S-13 Groundwater Availability Models that would serve as the basis for the proposed DFCs.  Much of the controversy over the appropriate pumping file to be used was sparked by a November 10, 2020, threatening letter from Paul M. Terrill III to Gary Westbrook regarding Blue Water Vista Ridge Desired Future Conditions.  After discussion they voted on the S-12 model that was favored by 4 of the 5 District Representative.  Post Oak GCD voted against the S-12 pumping file serving as the basis for Proposed DFCs.  Below is a summary of the 33 minute discussion that is provided in the below video.

In his plea to be able to continue to manage the aquifers at the March 18, 2021 meeting, Gary Westbrook, General Managers of Post Oak GCD, told the other District Representatives, “This is management we have had in place for over a decade that we believe tracks our mission statement considering conservation is important while recognizing that property rights are important.  We also recognize the balance that is required in considering the property rights of those who wish to produce as well as the property rights of those who wish to conserve for the future.  We are very very adamant about our belief that when we are required, at the GMA level, to consider all nine factors, that we believe our approach does give more consideration to conservation than just putting everything in a pumping file and rolling forward. We respectfully request that you allow us to manage the Carrizo as we have always desired.  Once we set the precedent, and I believe this would be a precedent, it will be hard to undo.  If our DFC is raised so much higher, then really, we won’t be able to do any management.  You can’t curtail until you approach those desired future conditions because these [new] DFCs would have to be allowed.  By law you can’t go past them, but you have to allow them.  And so that is the whole point to the challenge of this pumping file issue, is that once we determine that this is the file that is going to be used, then the [new] number that comes back is 178 ft of drawdown.  And so now, another 100 wells have to be mitigated. So that is another social-economic impact to landowners, and that is the balance we are trying to achieve, but we can’t achieve it if you force us into that 18,000 acre-feet per year pumping file.  The last round [desired future condition] was not 18,000 acre-feet per year in the Carrizo but was a much smaller number [7,000 acre-feet per year per Steve Young.” 

The GMA Representatives have scheduled a June 24, 2021 virtual meeting to discuss how to resolve this conflict in future proceedings.  We will notify you when the agenda and link to the meeting are available. 

 Actions you can take to reject the proposed DFCs and change the course groundwater management in our counties. 

We urge you to protest these polices and the proposed new desired future conditions (DFCs) by writing the Board members of the groundwater conservation district where you reside demanding that they put a stop to these unreasonable management policies and refuse to adopt the proposed new DFC’s.  Require the Districts to re-adopt the currently adopted DFCs until such time as they can agree to solutions that better protect landowners and the environment by adopting more balanced policies and by installing the monitoring wells needed to verify impacts on our aquifers, rivers and streams.

Groundwater Conservation Districts in Groundwater Management Area 12:

District Counties Public Hearing Date Hearing Notice Board President General Manager General Information Website Address Phone Number
Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District Bastrop and. Lee Counties N/A N/A Mike Talbot, President mike.talbot4@gmail.com James Totten, GM jtotten@lostpineswater.org lpgcd@lostpineswater.org 908 Loop 230, Smithville, TX 78957 512-360-5088
Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District Burleson and Milam Counties N/A N/A Sidney Youngblood, President admin@posgcd.org Gary Westbrook, GM gwestbrook@posgcd.org admin@posgcd.org 310 East Avenue C, Milano, Texas 76556 512-455-9900
Brazos Valley Groundwater Conservation District Brazos & Robertson Counties June 10, 2021 2 PM Virtual Stephen Cast clopez@brasosvalleygcd.org Alan Day, GM aday@brazosvalleygcd.org clopez@brazosvalleygcd.org 112 West 3rd Street, Hearne, TX 77859 979-279-9350
Mid-East Texas Groundwater Conservation District Freestone, Leon & Madison Counties N/A N/A George Holleman, Vice President info@mideasttexasgcd.com David Bailey, GM info@mideasttexasgcd.com cinfo@mideasttexasgcd.com 101 W. Main, Suite 229, Madisonville, TX 77864 936-348- 3212
Fayette County Groundwater Conservation District Fayette County N/A N/A Leo Wick Sr., President wendi@fayettecountygroundwater.com David Van Dresar, GM david@fayettecountygroundwater.com cinfo@fayettecountygroundwater.com 255 Svoboda Lane, Room 115, La Grange TX 78945 979-968-3135

 

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