Post was written by Jennifer Walker who works on water issues at the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The future of Texas groundwater is currently being determined by the regional water planning process. As we have written before, each regional water planning group is responsible for determining how the area will meet their water needs for the next 50 years. But what happens when two groups make conflicting plans to use the same water? This is exactly what is occurring between Region K and Region L, both have planned to use limited groundwater supplies from the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer in Bastrop County. Instead of mediating the problem and working towards a real lasting solution, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) may be providing money to create a bigger problem. Is this really how we want a state agency to behave?
Water Supply Tug of War
Both Region K and Region L planning groups have developed water management strategies that utilize the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. The Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District (LPGCD), responsible for regulating production of water in Bastrop and Lee counties, has determined that the water available from this aquifer is 28,000 acre-feet per year. The Region K Initially Prepared Plan (IPP) allocated practically all of this available water to meet growing demands in Bastrop County through the year 2060. Keep in mind, the LPGCD already placed a moratorium on new permits because of limited groundwater availability.
At the same time, the Region L Planning Group has developed a water management strategy that uses the same water for a project referred to as the “Guadalupe Blanco River Authority Simsboro Project.” The strategy contemplates installation of a well field in the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in Bastrop County to extract 30,000 acre-feet per year to be moved in via pipeline to customers in Hays and Caldwell counties. GBRA plans to purchase this water from the private water marketing firm End-Op; however, their application for a groundwater permit from LPGCD has yet to be approved.
To make things more complicated, Groundwater Management Area 12 (GMA 12) has been meeting for the past several years to determine the Desired Future Conditions (DFC) for the aquifers that they manage. LPGCD is included in GMA 12. The DFC will result in a Managed Available Groundwater (MAG) for each aquifer in their jurisdiction. This will be a cap on the amount of water for which LPGCD is able to issue permits. The MAG is expected to be fairly close to the groundwater availability that LPGCD has already communicated to Region K. So, if the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District ends up with a MAG that is fairly close to their current permits, they will likely not be able to issue any more permits, and the likelihood of End-Op getting a permit and being able to sell water to GBRA begins to look dicey.
What’s an Agency to do?
In an effort to “resolve” this issue, Region L decided to leave the strategy in their plan as a recommended strategy and to characterize their use of the already claimed water as an “overdraft” of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. An overdraft means that they plan to use this aquifer in excess of what will be used by Region K and in excess of the stated aquifer availability by LPGCD. Simply renaming the strategy does not solve the problem. Why didn’t Region L remove the GBRA Simsboro strategy from the plan, or change it to an alternative strategy? The answer is primarily money.
What is truly shocking is that the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), charged with managing the Regional Water Planning Process and therefore Texas’ water resources, views this double-dipping as a resolution of the interregional conflict. In fact, GBRA wants TWDB to help pay for the planning and financing the pipeline project with taxpayer dollars.
Just so we are clear — Two regional planning groups want to use the same water. Although Region L claims their use will be an overdraft and the entity GBRA wants to purchase the water from doesn’t even have a permit for that water, GBRA wants to get taxpayer money from the TWDB for a feasibility study to build the water pipeline.
Is this the role of a state agency? Shouldn’t an agency do the hard work of meditating this issue so that two groups aren’t relying on the same, already limited water source? The stated mission of the TWDB is “To provide leadership, planning, financial assistance, information, and education for the conservation and responsible development of water for Texas.” We are waiting for the leadership.