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Lost Pines grants water export permit to End Op

GIDDINGS TIMES & NEWS
September 15, 2016

Most of 15 billion gallons coming from Lee Co.

Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District’s Board of Directors voted on the End Op
LP operating and export permits that have been pending for years at a special meeting
Sept. 7 in Bastrop.

The 10-member Board voted 7-1 to grant stair-stepped permits to pump and export up
to 46,000 acre-feet per year (almost 15 billion gallons) of groundwater to End Op LP.
The water will be pumped primarily in Lee County, with the rest coming from Bastrop
County.


End Op was originally controlled by former Williamson County Commissioner Frankie
Limmer but is believed to be now under the control of a venture investment fund.

Bastrop County Director David Fleming did not participate in any of the End Op
proceedings because his employer, Aqua Water Supply Corporation, contested the
permit. Director Larry Schatte of Lee County was absent from the September 7 meeting,
and Lee County Director Billy Sherrill was the lone dissenting vote.

The public expected the ruling to come Aug. 11, but the Board acted to postpone the
permitting decision once again.

After listening intently to lengthy public comment in opposition to the permit, from
organizations and members of the public, Board president Mike Talbot announced the
Board would not vote on the permit that night. Instead, the Board elected to have its
attorneys express some of the Board’s concerns to End Op, and to review “some of the
science” before making a final decision. The audience gave the Board a standing
ovation.

Under the permit, End Op may not pump the full permitted amount immediately.
Instead, it must demonstrate over a period of years, by pumping at lower levels than the
full 46,000 acre-feet, that the Simsboro Aquifer is not negatively impacted as defined
under the permit. End Op also has a deadline under the permit for entering into an
enforceable water supply contract in any of the areas where End Op promises to supply
water. Those areas had been specified by End Op for many years as Travis and
Williamson counties, but End Op recently added a third high-growth area, Hays County.

The permit resulted from a months’ long process by the District to settle with End Op.
Those negotiations started after a state administrative law judge, or “ALJ”,
recommended that the District grant the full 46,000 acre-feet/year permits, with no
gradual benchmarks required. His ruling came after a contested case hearing among
Aqua Water Supply Corporation, the District and End Op.

Four area landowners had sought to participate in that hearing but were denied by the
ALJ and the District. The decision to exclude the landowners is being appealed in state
district court in Bastrop, with further hearings expected to be scheduled now that the
permit is final.

Taking at least 65% of water from Lee Co.

End Op voluntarily reduced its original long-standing request for 56,000 to 46,000 acrefeet/
year, and agreed to take at least 65% of that amount from Lee County, as a result
of a settlement with Aqua prior to the start of the contested case hearing. That
settlement also required End Op to pay Aqua about 15 million dollars for the damage
Aqua claimed End Op would do to Aqua’s wells, primarily located in Bastrop County.

The settlement of all of Aqua’s claims was reached prior to the hearing. Despite the fact
the hearing was no longer “contested”, the ALJ let End Op proceed with the hearing.
The ALJ’s ruling in favor of End Op was based on that virtually uncontested official
record.

The format of the phased-in permit resembles the permit Lost Pines issued recently to
Forestar Real Estate Group, which had sued the District for a 45,000 acre-feet/year
permit but settled for a stair-stepped permit for up to 28,500 acre-feet.

Both pumpers will have to adhere to a well monitoring agreement, which requires them
to drill monitor wells to assist the District in assessing impacts of their pumping.
Forestar’s entire production will come from northeast Lee County.

Judge Fischer asked Board to “go slowly”

Despite strong public appeal for a reduced permit during the District’s negotiation with End Op, the Board granted the full permit but noted it had negotiated significant improvements in what the ALJ had recommended.

Lee County Judge Paul Fischer, who spoke to the Board in earlier public hearings, had acknowledged that the Board was in a difficult position on End Op because of the ALJ’s ruling. However, he continued to urge the Board to “go slowly” in its permitting process so as to protect our aquifer and our local livelihoods as much as possible.

One of the new permit conditions that the Board announced on September 7 might have been in response to the Judge’s concern that Forestar is permitted for 28,500 acre-feet in Lee County with possibly another 34,500 acre-feet per year slated to be pumped in Lee County by End Op. The Board announced that End Op would not be permitted to relocate two of its planned 14 wells from Bastrop to Lee County. Judge Fischer has also publicly expressed concern about the Vista Ridge project for 50,000 acre-feet, which is slated for production by 2020 in Burleson County, just across the Lee County line.

Local non-profits who opposed the permit, both in writing and during hearings, included the newly formed Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund, the League of Independent Voters of Texas, Environmental Stewardship and Neighbors for Neighbors. Several private citizens also spoke against the permits at an earlier hearing. No public testimony or comments were allowed at the September 7 meeting.

 Prior to the meeting and vote on End Op, Independent Texans PAC handed out materials to the large audience, with information on End Op as well as on a “Growth Summit” planned for the Embassy Suites in San Marcos on September 16. Independent Texans plans to protest the summit conference on topics related to the problems of growth, including water issues.

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