LCRA’s proposed wells widely criticized
Lost Pines GM supports pumping in phases
The Giddings Times and News reported last week on the Lower Colorado River Authority’s plans to pump 25,000 acre-feet per year (AFY) of Bastrop groundwater. LCRA is currently permitted to augment its Lake Bastrop Power Plant cooling lake with Bastrop groundwater.
The history of “laddered” or phased production permits issued by the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District for other mega-projects was also covered.
District general manager Jim Totten has recommended his board issue a laddered permit for incremental pumping increases to LCRA.
He proposed a number of special conditions that may allow the utility to pump the full 25,000 AFY at an aggregate rate of 18,000 gallons per minute, from eight closely spaced wells on the Griffith League Scout Ranch on the outskirts of the City of Bastrop.
The draft permit allows LCRA to export the entire amount outside the district, but prohibits using the Colorado River to transport water, and from discharging groundwater into any surface water, presumably including the power plant lake.
Protestants become unlikely allies
LCRA’s project to pump and sell groundwater inside or outside the district was the subject of a six-day “contested case hearing” last month.
Two state administrative law judges heard vigorous objections to the project from a water marketer, a municipality, a water supply corporation, a conservation-focused 501c3 organization, an aligned group of about thirty landowner families, and one non-aligned landowner family.
Each of the parties made their case with different evidence and arguments but with the same core issues.
The parties’ repetitive questions to witnesses seemed designed to highlight differences in their respective cases, yet still hammer home their collective objections to judges with limited experience in groundwater policy and law.
They argued that LCRA had failed to present sufficient evidence to support its permit application, and that pumping 25,000 AFY would have unreasonable –and therefore impermissible---negative impacts on their interests.
One court observer offered general impressions of their individual cases. He described landowners as aggressively challenging LCRA’s evidence but also questioning whether the district is doing its job to protect the aquifer and local groundwater users.
Aqua, the City of Elgin and Recharge demanded protection as commercial permit holders the district is required to consider in its permitting decisions.
Aqua and Elgin made a case for financial mitigation by LCRA to compensate them for the severe and unreasonable damage to their existing Simsboro wells they expect LCRA will cause. Recharge expects to suffer the same unreasonable interference and damage to its permitted wells that have yet to be drilled near the Griffith League Ranch.
Environmental Stewardship asserts both LCRA and the district are responsible for protecting the interaction of surface water with groundwater, through permit conditions that will prevent freshwater inflows to the Colorado River system from being diminished by over-pumping of groundwater.
Basically, all parties other than the Lost Pines district argued that the permit either should not be issued at all or severely reduced in amount.
They cited LCRA’s failure to carry its burden of proof, and its denial of any responsibility to help mitigate the expected unreasonable impacts to the aquifer, the river, existing permit holders, and other users of the aquifer.
One landowner-party attended most of the hearing and observed that he was struck by how strongly the district defended its draft permit for the full 25,000 AFY. While he understands the proposed permit is more restrictive than what LCRA seeks, he said the district’s line of questioning left him wondering whose team the district is on.