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Groundwater District reduces LCRA pumping permit

Reprinted from Giddings Times & News, October 21, 2021


Editor's Note: SAWDF expects the LCRA permit will be on the November 8 board meeting agenda.

On Tuesday, October 12, the Board of Directors of the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District granted the Lower Colorado River Authority a five-year permit to pump groundwater from the Simsboro Aquifer under Bastrop County for export to Travis County growth corridors. 

But instead of granting LCRA’s 2018 request for 25,000 acre-feet per year, the board granted only 8,000 acre-feet per year. As a result, LCRA may produce only about 2.6 billion gallons per year, rather than the requested eight billion gallons.

Lee County Judge Paul Fischer was in the audience for the Lost Pines hearing, and rose to speak to the Board after several other members of the public gave comment. As always, he encouraged the board to be conservative and recognize the challenges of growth in our two counties.

LCRA given limited export permit

The board also granted LCRA a 25,000 acre-feet per year permit to export water from the District. The district apparently cannot restrict the LCRA from future permit applications, but transport of water out of the district would currently be limited to the 8,000 acre-feet per year production permit, and overall to 25,000 acre-feet under the terms of the export permit.

The district’s October 12 order also appears to prohibit the LCRA from using the Colorado River as a conduit for transporting any groundwater produced under the permit.

Opponents give tentative approval 

Local landowners who formally opposed the permit with theassistance of the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund (SAWDF), initially hailedthe permit reduction as a vindication of their position that LCRA’s proposed pumping would harm their interests. 

All opponents of the permit apparently reserved finaljudgment until the District takes final action on a draft permit and LCRAformally reacts to the reduced permit. 

 District has final say on permitting 

After a six-day hearing in 2019, LCRA came away with arecommendation from two state administrative law judges that the Lost Pinesdistrict issue a permit for the full 25,000 acre-feet per year. 

Under Texas law, the Lost Pines District’s Board ofDirectors has the final say on the permit, after taking into account theadministrative judges’ recommendations. They exercised their discretion last Tuesday.  

LCRA preserves right to appeal 

Counsel for the LCRA gave notice after the Board’s vote Tuesday night that they would continue to exercise their legal rights by immediately requesting written evidence of what the district relied upon in making their decision.  

In response, the district’s “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law”, along with a draft permit, are expected to be considered by the board at a special meetingin early November.  

Opponents argued unreasonable impacts

Opponents of the permit argued to Lost Pines board members earlier this year that LCRA had failed to make its case for the full amount of their application, despite the administrative law judges’ recommendation. 

Those opponents ranged from numerous landowners represented by a legal team organized by SAWDF, to water marketers Recharge Water LP and Aqua Water Supply Corporation, to the City of Elgin and Environmental Stewardship, an organization that advocates for protection of the Colorado River.

The Lost Pines district’s general manager, with separate legal counsel from the board’s attorney, also opposed some of LCRA’s requested permit provisions.

 Local landowners fear well impacts 

Landowners with domestic and livestock wells in Bastrop andLee counties participated in the 2019 administrative hearing. They argued theirwells and property rights would be unreasonably impacted by LCRA’s long-term pumping. 

Additional landowners without wells protestedthe permit but were excluded from participating in the formal protest by the administrative law judges.

Vista Ridge still impacting Lee County

Well owners in northeast Lee County continue to be negatively impacted by pumping of 50,000 acre-feet in neighboring Burleson County by a deep-well export project to San Antonio. Pumping by the Vista Ridge Project began drying up wells soon after production of groundwater commenced from eighteen deep wells in 2020,  for transport through a 142-mile pipeline across seven counties.

The LCRA had planned to drill eight deep wells on Bastrop County’s  Griffith League Boy Scout Ranch, adjacent to the Circle D Subdivision just outside the City of Bastrop. LCRA’s plans seemed to include export of the full eight billion gallons per year via pipeline to the SH-130 growth corridor east of Austin.

Developments will be reported

The Giddings Times & News will continue to report on future developments concerning the LCRA permit decision.