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SAWDF Press Release -- October 20, 2017
Judge Hears Arguments on Landowners’ Right to Protest Groundwater Export, Ruling to Come
BASTROP – A state district judge in Bastrop on Wednesday heard arguments for and against the contention that four local landowners were denied their rights when they were excluded by the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District from participating in a 2013 administrative hearing on a groundwater pumping permit.
The 2013 hearing resulted in a permit to water marketer End-Op LP (now known as Recharge Water) that allows massive amounts of groundwater to be pumped and exported from Lee and Bastrop counties. The Oct. 18 hearing was part of a legal challenge to that permit.
Judge Carson Campbell ruled in favor of the landowners from the bench Wednesday on the question of whether he has the authority to review the District’s decision to exclude them. A ruling on the landowners’ right to protest the permit is pending from Judge Campbell.
Three individual landowners and landowner Environmental Stewardship, a non-profit conservation organization, are asking the court to allow them a new hearing so they can present evidence that the permit would harm them and their property, as well as the region’s aquifer. Environmental Stewardship also seeks to present evidence on negative impacts on the rivers, streams and springs that depend on groundwater.
The permit allows Recharge Water to pump and export up to 46,000 acre-feet of water annually (approximately 15 billion gallons per year) from 14 wells in the Simsboro formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, for export to Hays, Travis and Williamson counties.
A lawyer for the groundwater district joined the water marketer’s attorneys in arguing against the landowners (or "those folks" as he called them), primarily because none of the landowners are producing water from the Simsboro formation.
Landowner attorney Don Grissom, who has ties to Bastrop County, denounced the District’s and End Op’s “condescension” and “arrogance” in dealing with residents of the two counties, who he said are entitled to have the district protect their water supply, whether they have wells or not.
Water marketers have bought rights to pump groundwater from thousands of acres in Lee, Bastrop, Milam and Burleson counties, with an eye on selling groundwater to San Antonio and other cities along the I-35 corridor.
Representatives of a citizens group organized to protect groundwater in Central Texas say they are optimistic Judge Campbell will affirm the right of Texas landowners to protect the groundwater under their land from negative impacts of permits.
“Landowners, conservationists and property rights groups across the state are watching this case closely,” said Michele Gangnes, a Lee County attorney and director of the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund. “This could set an important precedent for the protection of groundwater and property rights across Texas.”
SAWDF was formed in 2016 by veterans of several groups, including Neighbors for Neighbors, who have battled for almost two decades to protect the region’s groundwater. The 501(c)(3) organization’s Fall 2017 fundraising campaign is focused on supporting the landowners’ case.