55 landowners admitted as parties to LCRA contested case
The "David vs. Goliath" nature of this case wasn't lost on volunteer bakers and landowners outside the Convention Center on Dec. 19, where they accepted an outpouring of donations for their Christmas baked goods on behalf of SAWDF's efforts to support landowners inside at the SOAH hearing. Photo by Linda Curtis
SAWDF Media Release ~ Dec. 21, 2018
Landowners admitted as parties with their counsel, Don Grissom, SAWDF representative Michele Gangnes, Friends of Bastrop Water's Jeannie Jessup, Environmental Stewardship's Steve Box and his counsel, Eric Allmon. Photograph courtesy of Linda Curtis.
December 21, 2018
For Immediate Release
Over Fifty Local Landowners Admitted as Parties in Hearing on LCRA Pumping Permit
BASTROP – During a preliminary hearing on Dec. 19, more than fifty landowners from Bastrop and Lee counties were admitted as parties in an administrative lawsuit challenging a permit to pump and export groundwater by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). Most of those landowners are receiving support from the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund (SAWDF), a central Texas 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to protecting property rights in groundwater and aquifers.
In February 2018, the LCRA applied for a permit from the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation district to pump groundwater in the Simsboro formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer from eight proposed wells on the Griffith League Scout Ranch in northern Bastrop County.
Landowners near the Ranch, especially the 600 residents in the adjacent Circle D Subdivision, were first made aware of the project by Friends of Bastrop Water, formed by Circle D HOA board member Jeannie Jessup.
By September 2018, over one hundred landowners including Circle D HOA; a conservation group that guards the Colorado River; and the local land trust had filed formal protests of the permit, and most spoke out at the District’s public hearing on the 25,000 acre-feet/year (8 billion gallons) project.
The permit application specified LCRA’s vast service area as the destination for the water, but in late November, a letter from LCRA to the District offering to limit the water to Bastrop, Lee and Travis counties surfaced. LCRA also ran a full-page newspaper advertisement to the same effect on the eve of its recent Sunset Commission hearing.
The contested case hearing on the permit, now set for mid-October 2019, will be conducted by administrative law judges at the State Office of Administrative Hearings, but the District’s board of directors must make the ultimate decision on whether to issue the permit.
Protesting landowners who appeared at Wednesday’s Bastrop hearing, Environmental Stewardship, the Pines and Prairies Land Trust, the Circle D HOA, Recharge Water (formerly known as End Op), the City of Elgin and Aqua Water Supply Corporation were all admitted as parties by ALJ Lawrence O’Malley.
O’Malley set a February 19, 2019 deadline for the District and LCRA to file challenges to party status.
Hydrologists with the District estimate the LCRA pumping alone would result in a drop in water levels in the Simsboro formation of up to 300 feet, with effects felt throughout much of Bastrop and Lee counties.
“The historic number of rural landowners protesting this permit sent a loud message to the state of Texas at the hearing,” said Michele Gangnes, a Lee County attorney and board member of SAWDF. “That message is that LCRA has no business developing groundwater and being in the water marketing business, in the face of so many redundant export projects without customers already on the books.”
Gangnes said an LCRA export permit would add to the already-permitted export of 145,500 acre-feet/year (approximately 47 billion gallons) from Lee, Bastrop, Burleson and Milam counties, with all but about 5 billion gallons/yr slated to be pumped from the Simsboro. She said Recharge Water and Forestar have yet to name any customers for their Lee County-focused projects.
“A vague promise to sell our groundwater locally but leaving Travis County as an additional destination begs us to speculate,” Gangnes said. “Obviously, huge amounts of local groundwater could still be used by LCRA to fuel extensive development in Travis County, especially just east of Austin.”
Gangnes said the fact the landowners accepted as parties range from ranchers and farmers near the Griffith League who depend on groundwater for their property and livestock, well owners and other residents of Circle D, and local conservation groups, shows the level of concern that has been raised by this latest permit.
“The almost 5,000 acre ranch extends from Oak Hill Cemetery Road in Bastrop to near the intersection of FM 1441 with SH 21”, said Jessup. “Circle D is at ground zero for water impacts, as well as quality of life disturbances because the wells are all located along our shared border with the Griffith League.”
Jessup said the well owners in Circle D, as well as those nearby are concerned that pumping will not only affect the Simsboro but also the other formations of the Carrizo-Wilcox under their land.
Aqua Water Supply Corporation has three Simsboro wells near the LCRA Project, and four of Recharge’s planned 14 wells are sited nearby.
A pumping and export permit by Recharge (End-Op) is still winding its way through the courts. The main issue is whether a landowner who protests a permit must be pumping water from the same aquifer the permit applicant seeks to access.
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