• About Us

    Mission

    The mission of the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund (SAWDF) is to take action to protect and conserve the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in central Texas, as well as the rivers, streams and springs that are nurtured by it, and to defend the rights of those who live over the aquifer and who seek to leave a legacy of sustainable water resources for future Texans.

     

     

    Issues and Goals

    Veterans of several organized efforts to protect the central portion of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer have determined our communities need an organization with substantial financial resources, ready to take legal and other actions to ensure the public right and our government’s duty to conserve and protect our aquifers in perpetuity, and to preserve landowners’ access to their own groundwater.

     

    A non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund, was formed to provide a unified and well-funded response to the abuse of our region’s groundwater resources and landowner rights, and to assure that the constitutionally mandated balance between development and conservation of our natural resources is achieved.

    The Issues

    Private water marketers discovered decades ago they could lure public officials into pursuing long-term contracts for expensive and massive water projects. They joined other for-profit interests to paint a picture of future water scarcity, with limited supply to satisfy unlimited demand.
     

    The resulting gold rush mentality convinced the decision makers in cities along the IH-35 corridor that someone else’s water – the rich Simsboro formation of the central Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, among others -- is critical to urban growth and prosperity, and must be rendered for the “greater good” of urban development.
     

    Special interests on both ends of the proposed grid of pipelines (dubbed “Gridzilla” by the opposition) are focused on shaping Texas groundwater law and policy to fit the water marketer’s model. Those who stand to gain from huge infrastructure projects –the marketers, business interests, landmen, attorneys, hydrologists, investors, lenders, financial advisors and others--- compete with one another for profits, but work cooperatively to serve their model.
     

    The marketers first rushed to obtain water rights from landowners, and huge export permits from local groundwater districts, whether or not there was any actual demand for the water. The absence of effective regulation leaves most landowners vulnerable to one-sided deals when they lease or sell their groundwater. Groundwater law and policy have been manipulated by friendly legislators and agencies, to allow permits that will result in mining the Simsboro – allowing withdrawals of water far beyond what this extremely slow recharge aquifer will ever replace.
     

    Ultimately, these special interests are willing to put existing communities and ecosystems that depend on the Aquifer in peril, as well as threaten the Aquifer’s ability to sustain itself as a precious natural resource of our state. They manipulate the private ownership of groundwater to benefit only those who are willing to sell their water. And they count on the “rural donors” of the water they covet to be rendered helpless to do anything about their water grabs.
     

    What has emerged is a strategy of acquiring “abundant new water” to facilitate a megalopolis --one continuous city--- from Williamson County to Bexar County. The mayors of San Antonio (Ivy Taylor) and Austin (Steve Adler) have been meeting regularly to that end. [Update: In 2017, Mayor Ivy Taylor was defeated in San Antonio by Ron Nierenberg, a former City Council person who has shown interest in further review of water projects, like the SAWS/Vista Ridge 142-mile pipeline from the Simsboro Aquifer in Burleson County to San Antonio, to assure, among other things, that donor communities of the water are not put at risk.]
     

    Instead of raiding their neighbors, risking aquifers and ecosystems, and stressing their constituents with unaffordable water supplies, cities should be looking for alternatives to manage their demand and should quit viewing water as a commodity, to be used up like oil and gas.
     

    Rural Texas must be healthy in order to contribute to the welfare of all Texans through agricultural, livestock, industrial, recreational and other pursuits that make Texas unique and prosperous. When Texans unite to protect and conserve our water resources, we are acting not only to preserve the rural way of life in Texas but also to enhance the ability of our entire state to sustain itself indefinitely.
     

    Past civilizations have ceased to exist when they ignored threats to the sustainability of water as their most essential natural resource.

    Our Goals

    The Simsboro Aquifer primarily lies under three groundwater conservation districts: Lost Pines GCD (Lee and Bastrop counties), Post Oak Savannah GCD (Milam and Burleson counties), and Brazos Valley GCD (Robertson and Brazos counties). SAWDF is positioning to respond to massive water export projects that threaten not only the long-term health of the prolific Simsboro aquifer but also the other formations of the Wilcox Group (Calvert Bluff and Hooper), as well as the Carrizo Aquifer and surface water that depends on groundwater for its flows.

    Map shows central portion of Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer; Source: Texas Water Development Board

     

    SAWDF educates, advocates for and supports central Texas farmers, ranchers, landowners and citizens whose livelihoods depend on the Simsboro and the rivers, streams and springs it feeds. We conduct direct educational outreach through sponsored civic activities, printed and online materials, and collaboration with existing local organizations who have been conducting such outreach in an effort to broaden awareness of groundwater-related issues, both locally and regionally.
     

    SAWDF’s assistance includes engaging with communities and their citizens in formal efforts to deliver healthy aquifers to future generations. We interact with groundwater conservation districts, regional groundwater managers, state planning agencies, and legislative and governmental bodies.
     

    SAWDF is involved in groundwater-related public policy issues for the benefit of local citizens, economies and ecosystems. Because landowners are typically the class of citizenship necessary to establish standing to challenge groundwater legal issues, SAWDF directly assists landowners who participate in civil or administrative proceedings involving important legal precedents, to defend their due process rights and their legal property rights to groundwater that in turn affect the sustainability of aquifers and community rights.
     

    Our overarching concerns are to:

     

    • Ensure the water resources of the region – aquifers, rivers, tributaries and springs – are conserved and protected in perpetuity by achieving a true balance between the duty to conserve water resources (both groundwater and surface waters) and the desire to develop such resource.

     

    A “true” balance is one that balances, on the basis of the best science available, the amount of withdrawal from the aquifer that will maintain it as a sustainable resource, without unreasonable negative impacts, rather than simply claiming the “conservation” side of the equation is met when “development” (permitted withdrawals) matches projected demand. See SAWDF July 2016 written comments to Lost Pines GCD in our News Section.

     

    • Ensure communities in the region that depend on the central Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer are educated about the risks to their own economies and ecosystems, as well as to future generations. of allowing over-production and depletion of the Aquifer.
       
    • Ensure local economies and ecosystems are protected in the groundwater permitting process.
       
    • Ensure landowner participation and protection in the groundwater permitting process and in other actions that threaten to drain groundwater from aquifers in which they have ownership. (Under state law, landowners own groundwater in place beneath their property whether or not they have active wells; consequently, landowners who have no well or have a well in a formation of the aquifer that is different than the formation in which a permit is sought should nevertheless have the potential status of an "affected person", qualified to challenge such permit). 
       
    • Ensure rights of all landowners are protected in the permitting process, when water marketers sever landowners’ groundwater ownership by leasing or purchasing groundwater rights to support massive projects.
       
    • Raise substantial funds to assist community outreach, education and public policy advocacy, as well as ongoing landowner actions in the public interest, and anticipated future actions, in order to mount a sustainable effort to accomplish the above goals.

     

    SAWDF's application for tax-exempt status has been approved by the Internal Revenue Service, effective June 17, 2016 and making donations to SAWDF tax-deductible. As a part of its activities, SAWDF attempts to influence public policy and legislation to the extent permitted by Section 501(h) of the Internal Revenue Code, however, it does not participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office.

     

    SAWDF was not established to be a public interest law firm, and will not provide or employ staff attorneys to provide or accept compensation for, legal advice or legal services to any individual or any other organization.

    Our Board

    Ernest F. Bogart

    Principal, Owen & Bogart, Elgin, Texas.

    Ernie has 45 years’ experience in business, personal and real estate law and litigation. He is a nationally recognized peer-reviewed attorney in the highest categories of legal ability and ethics, and is also a prominent community leader and volunteer. Ernie has served pro bono as counsel for landowners in administrative and judicial proceedings involving landowner water rights. Ernie and his spouse Barbara Bailey, a Bastrop County assistant district attorney, have lived on their property outside Elgin for over 30 years, and are well-known for their commitment to their community and to Bastrop County.

    Andrew Meyer

    Owner and Director, Frugivore Farms LLC, Paige, Texas.

    Andy and his spouse Melissa have owned and operated Frugivore Farms, an organic farm operation, since 2013. The Meyers protested the pending End Op LP permit in the Lost Pines GCD due to the proximity of their farm to deep Simsboro wells proposed by End Op for a massive water export project. Their plan to drill their own well into the Simsboro to support irrigation needs is now in question because End Op wells will drop water levels to depths that may be unaffordable for individual landowners to access. When they were denied party status to challenge the End Op permit, they joined other landowners in an appeal of that decision, now pending in state court.

    Michele G. Gangnes

    Principal, Law Office of Michele G. Gangnes

    Michele has 42 years’ experience in banking and public finance law, first as a partner in two Pacific Northwest law firms before returning to her native Texas in 1995 as a sole practitioner. Michele is nationally recognized as a peer-reviewed attorney in the highest categories of legal ability and ethics, and her legal opinions are accepted in the U.S. capital markets. She is also a veteran water and environmental volunteer activist in central Texas. Starting with the original attempted “water grab” by San Antonio and Alcoa in 1998, she has worked pro bono on water issues for Neighbors for Neighbors and the League of Independent Voters of Texas. She and her partner Bill Turner live in the Blue community, in northwestern Lee County.

    Travis Brown

    Lexington, Texas

    Travis and his spouse, Georgia, have lived in northwestern Lee County 22 years. He works for the Texas Department of Agriculture. An activist for environmental causes the past 25 years, Travis helped organize Neighbors for Neighbors and serves as its president. He also headed up a citizens’ group in North Central Texas in the early 1990s that battled water pollution from industrial-sized dairies. Travis has worked as energy projects director for Public Citizen’s Texas office and as a paralegal for a public interest environmental law firm in Austin. Travis also formerly worked as a reporter for newspapers across Texas and in California.

    George Witta

    Owner and Operator, Southwest Septic Loo, Elgin, Texas.

    George and his spouse Jeri, also a valued SAWDF volunteer, are the proud parents of three adult daughters and have been ranching at the "Witta Wanch” in Bastrop County since 1980. George’s history of service to civic and church activities in the Elgin community is equaled only by his impressive professional history. In between serving as a Texas Army National Guard pilot and flight instructor, and training as an air traffic controller, George organized the first flight instructor union in the United States in 1969. He then went on to attend the George Meany School of Labor Relations in Washington D. C., before becoming highly qualified in an innovative septic and site preparation business in Elgin. George and Jeri helped lead Bastrop County’s opposition to the San Antonio-Alcoa water grab in the late 1990’s.

    Organizational Goals

    SAWDF is governed by its Board of Directors. Its volunteer Board, non-voting advisors and fundraising committee will be drawn as much as possible from members of the various rural communities served by SAWDF. The proximity of those communities to population centers produces a rich and diverse pool of ranchers, farmers, professionals, urban commuters, students, retirees and local business persons willing to serve their neighbors. All volunteers are welcome.

     

    SAWDF’s funders are expected to be geographically diverse, because SAWDF’s concerns are state-wide issues and Texas water policy is at a critical stage. We will seek a wide variety of grants, donations and other available sources of funding for this most important endeavor.

     

    Because of their own experience of working to limit production in the Edwards and Trinity aquifers, many citizens and organizations along the IH-35 growth corridor understand the threat of a depleted or spoiled Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer to the security of our rural communities. They recognize that the three aquifers, though significantly different in their composition and characteristics, have the same right to be protected and conserved. They are also concerned about urban sprawl and environmental damage to their own ecosystems that will result from the false promise of developers and municipalities that the Simsboro provides a virtually endless supply of water.

     

    Citizens with prior involvement in state-wide, community and grass-roots efforts to protect groundwater have come forward to support SAWDF. The Board’s advisors – currently being constituted -- will also include outside experts, attorneys, hydrologists, 501c3 organizations, and other professionals and community leaders as needed.

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