The big news for LIV today is seen in House Speaker Dade Phelan’s recently released Interim Charges – the Speaker's directives to Texas House Committees for work in the 2022 interim session.
Eureka, there it is! Vista Ridge finally gets a look under the hood! And so does one of the biggest groundwater contamination threats – orphan oil and gas wells! Check out No. 5 in the Natural Resources Committee charges -- see page 23:
“Examine the state’s groundwater management policy and regulatory framework. Include a review of large-scale water transfers and their impact on groundwater resources. Make appropriate recommendations for legislation or state agency action to:
· promote the achievement of planning goals under Chapter 36, Water Code, including those involving desired future conditions;
· provide adequate transparency to the permit application process;
· further the state's groundwater quality protection efforts, including an assessment of the risks posed to groundwater by abandoned and deteriorated water wells and orphan oil and gas wells; and
· promote conservation and waste prevention.”
What can you do to help? Join LIV, come to our monthly forums (the next one is April 11th) and get ready to attend legislative hearings throughout the interim -- we'll keep you informed.
ABOUT CHICKEN LITTLE'S LAWYER
Last week, Austin attorney, lobbyist and water marketer litigator Ed McCarthy filed a 600-page federal lawsuit against the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District. The suit also sued Lost Pines Board members, in their official capacity, along with some directors individually. McCarthy’s client, Gatehouse Water, LLC., purchased the Forestar Real Estate Group permit for wells in the area north of Lexington in Lee County. (What became the Forestar project actually started leasing up local water rights [alleged by Gatehouse to comprise 10,000 acres now in Lee and Milam counties] in the early 2000’s.
Over five years ago, Lost Pines granted Forestar a “stair-stepped” 28,500 acre-feet (about half the size of Vista Ridge) after Forestar sued the District and individual board members to compel the issuance of a 45,000 acre-feet/year permit. Ultimately, the lawsuit was settled with the issuance of the reduced permit. In 2021, Lost Pines determined that Gatehouse had failed to meet the terms of the permit and reduced the allowed production to zero.
Last November, on the heels of having lost the Gatehouse permit, McCarthy proceeded to bully and insult the Board and the public at a Lost Pines board meeting by making them sit through a 3-minute video of "Chicken Little." McCarthy was apparently mocking the District and all others who worry about our aquifers, especially landowners in northeastern Lee County who have watched their wells go dry shortly after Vista Ridge began its aggressive pumping for its pipeline to San Antonio, aka the”San Antone Hose”. Note that some of the most significant well damage has been in the vicinity of the planned Gatehouse well field.
In direct response to the McCarthy-style of lawsuit seeking personal liability for individual board members who serve as volunteers on a GCD board, LIV worked alongside Rep. John Cyrier to pass HB 3163 in 2015 to address the potential for such lawsuits to intimidate board members in their permitting decisions. The law provided immunity to groundwater district board members for actions taken on behalf of the board in the course of fulfilling their duties. Whether McCarthy’s federal, rather than state court, lawsuit is challenging the bounds of the law or worming its way around it, we cannot yet say. We’ll be watching!
Linda Curtis, a spokesperson for the League of Independent Voters said,
"There is no doubt that landowner wells in two groundwater conservation districts are failing, so it's hard to call them hysterical Chicken Littles. On the other hand, investors in a speculative groundwater project that hasn't found a real customer in over 20 years, might wonder if Gatehouse and Mr. McCarthy's sky is falling."
A 600-page lawsuit, the second in a series of such lawsuits, indicates Gatehouse’s willingness to punish Lost Pines and individual directors with legal fees and the personal toll of litigation. What does that tell you about how valuable the water is underneath us and how strong our volunteer groundwater district board members must be to simply do their jobs?