Hays County Citizens Suit Against Water Grab
Hays County Citizens’ Suit against a water grab is just the beginning. The following article was printed in the Giddings Times newspaper (Lee County) on April 8, 2015.
Last month the Giddings Times reported on a plan by Houston water marketer Electro Purification to sink deep water wells in an unregulated part of the Trinity Aquifer in Hays County. Now a citizens group, the Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (“TESPA”) has filed a lawsuit to prevent the EP project.
Hays County’s Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) also has introduced legislation in Austin to address the EP situation. His plea to stop this “water grab” by extending local groundwater district jurisdiction over the project, received a lukewarm response two weeks ago in the House Natural Resources Committee. The Committee left his legislation pending, with an uncertain future.
Some legislative observers believe the Committee’s reluctance to say no to any water marketer has its roots in a movement among some influential lawmakers to adopt the so-called “California Model” in Texas. California declared a critical water emergency last week, due to extended drought and mismanagement of water for decades. Sixty percent of its population has been drawn to semi-arid southern California, leaving the state dependent on moving mass quantities of water over long distances. Commentators have lamented the state’s attempts to manage Mother Nature, rather than human behavior.
Concern is growing in rural Texas that lawmakers are poised to repeat this practice, by moving our groundwater through a grid of long, expensive pipelines, to pre-ordained growth corridors with burgeoning populations and not enough water. Urban ratepayers wonder if they will be able to afford this expensive water. Those same observers worry that this plan to “move water” led by Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), one of the leading proponents of the Vista Ridge 142-mile water supply/pipeline project in Burleson-Milam counties, will ignore the needs of rural counties and threaten the ability of our aquifers to provide water in perpetuity.
Local citizens’ advocacy groups and many private citizens have long supported our local Lost Pines groundwater district’s efforts to carefully manage the ancient stored water in the Simsboro formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. The Simsboro is clearly the primary target to supply the IH-35 corridor with water. What some call the “real” Hays County water grab calls for Forestar Real Estate Group to pipe almost as much Lee County water to Hays County as the Vista Ridge project will pipe to San Antonio.
To their credit, many of the hundreds of Hays County citizens who have turned out to publicly challenge Electro Purification also have spoken out against Hays County’s contract with Forestar for 16 billion gallons per year of Simsboro water. However, one of the Hays County Commissioners who voted for the Forestar contract appeared at the Legislature to demand protection of his own county’s aquifer but could not restrain himself from congratulating Rep. Larson on the brilliance of the Vista Ridge/San Antonio contract for Simsboro water.
Forestar is challenging Lost Pines’ decision to deny all but about 4 billion gallons per year of Forestar’s requested 16 billion gallons. It also claims Lost Pines must deny all other applications for municipal or commercial pumping if any part of Forestar’s permit is denied. Notably, Forestar has never challenged fellow water marketer End Op/Recharge’s application to export an additional 16-plus billion gallons to the IH-35 corridor from Bastrop and Lee counties. Lawyers for Forestar and End Op have now surfaced as the legal team for Electro Purification and the Hays countians who sold their water to EP.
Most recently, Forestar has made good on its promise to challenge permits by contesting the City of Bastrop’s application to pump only 650 million gallons per year for its local growth needs. Lost Pines will take up that challenge and one other protest of Bastrop’s permit at a specially called meeting on April 29 at Bastrop City Hall.
The TESPA group’s lawsuit is being closely watched in our two counties. TESPA seeks to vindicate a groundwater conservation district’s legislative and constitutional mandate to ensure groundwater is used wisely and in a sustainable manner. Lost Pines GCD aspires to fulfill that same duty. TESPA also plans to ask the Texas Supreme Court to overturn the so-called “Rule of Capture” (also called the “biggest straw wins” rule), if the lower court does not allow the local groundwater district to regulate EP.
The lawsuit also demands that EP stop all work on its well field until EP obtains permits from a groundwater conservation district. Ironically, one of the objections of lawmakers to Rep. Isaac’s bill is the fact the Legislature does not like to pass laws on matters that are the subject of pending litigation.
As the Legislature approaches the halfway mark for the 2015 session, local groups advocating for preservation and protection of our aquifers in perpetuity, and for local control by groundwater conservation districts, have been active in monitoring and testifying on pending legislation. Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart), the newly elected representative for Lee and Bastrop counties, also has three bills pending in the House Natural Resources Committee concerning groundwater district powers and protections.
More information on the legislative session and groundwater issues may be found at www.stopwatergrab.org and www.environstewardship.org.
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