Groundwater District Meeting Leaves Unanswered Questions
Water levels in area wells out of ordinary
The board of directors of the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District tackled a big agenda in their Wednesday, November 18 virtual meeting.
The agenda raised new issues associated with controversial groundwater export permits in the Lost Pines District and in neighboring Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District in Burleson and Milam counties.
The board’s discussion of reports by staff and legal consultants generally raised more questions than were answered, with the exception of encouraging news about Lost Pines’ efforts to develop a network of private wells to monitor the impacts of increased pumping in Burleson County since last year.
Coincidentally, representatives of the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund reported to the Giddings Times & News that they were contacted late last week by landowners in northeastern Lee County who were unaware of the district’s monitoring plan. The well owners have recently experienced out of the ordinary impacts on water levels in their wells.
Huge impacts expected
Both Lost Pines and Post Oak districts have been targeted since the late 1900’s by speculators and investment groups with plans for private groundwater export projects worth billions of dollars.
The pumping levels necessary for these projects is predicted to seriously impact aquifers, local wells and surface water resources over time.
The $3-plus billion Vista Ridge/San Antonio Water System project in Burleson County began pumping this summer at an annual rate of at least sixteen billion gallons (50,000 acre-feet), for delivery to San Antonio for the next thirty years.
Vista Ridge pumping is considered the “tip of the iceberg” by local conservation groups as far as the central Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer is concerned. It is only one of four permitted projects in the two districts that total over 48 billion gallons of expected annual production (almost 149,000 acre-feet).
The other three include a second Burleson County project that has been delivering significantly less than its permitted 20,000 acre-feet per year to Manor and SH-130 corridor for the last several years.
Lost Pines issued the other two permits to Recharge Water LP (formerly End Op LP) and Forestar Real Estate Group. Those projects have yet to find any customers but, if completed, would pump up to a combined 74,500 acre-feet annually.
5th permit pending
A heavily contested application by the Lower Colorado River Authority for a 25,000 acre-feet permit is pending at Lost Pines, to add to LCRA’s existing 10,000 acre-feet per year permit in Bastrop County.
At its December meeting, the board will revisit scheduling the final public hearing on the application, which has been indefinitely delayed by the pandemic.
Vista Ridge pumping
The 142-mile Vista Ridge pipeline connects San Antonio to eighteen Burleson County Simsboro and Carrizo aquifer wells --- just across the Lee/Burleson county line.
Impacts on groundwater levels by Vista Ridge’s pumping are expected to extend far and wide in the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, but the board’s discussion Wednesday night clearly showed the district is focused on local impacts, especially in northeastern Lee County.
The Post Oak district has a more formalized well monitoring plan in place than does Lost Pines, along with rules that are supposed to address unreasonable aquifer impacts within the district.
It is unclear what recourse, if any, one district has for impacts caused by pumping in another district, but the two districts are reportedly in communication about monitoring needs.
The subject of Vista Ridge impacts was first raised at the October board meeting by Bastrop director Phil Cook.
The district’s apparent resolve to address aquifer monitoring was the most positive note of the November meeting. General Manager Jim Totten reported that the district’s staff and consultants are developing a “master plan” in response to the October discussion of monitoring needs.
Initially, the district will pursue the formation of a monitoring network of approximately ten private wells in each relevant aquifer formation in northeastern Lee County.
Totten emphasized quality over quantity as the guide for the selection of wells. He also reported that candidate wells are being identified, to be quickly followed by outreach to the well owners.
Board president Mike Talbot commented that the budget committee is committed to “staying ahead of the curve” in the 2021 district budget. Totten expressed his belief that $70,000 would adequately fund the initial effort in Lee County, with possibly more funds requested when the broader plan takes shape.
Andrew Wier, a Bastrop County well owner and board member of the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund, applauded the monitoring efforts and offered SAWDF’s assistance with outreach to well owners in the most desirable locations.
He also urged the district to spare no effort, including drilling monitor wells at its own expense, in order to provide “the best, not just adequate” monitoring system.
Steve Box of Environmental Stewardship presented the board with a brief hydrology report that showed approximately 20,000 more acre-feet of groundwater, over and above the amount moving in response to other pumping, will move from Lee County to Burleson County in the aquifer as a result of Vista Ridge pumping.
Additionally, beneficial flows from the aquifer into the Colorado River will be reduced by Vista Ridge pumping, by about 2,000 acre-feet per year over and above losses caused by other pumping. As a result of Vista Ridge, the river will ultimately change from a “gaining” stream to a “losing” stream. The hydrology report was based on estimates, using the newest version of state-approved groundwater availability model being used by both districts.
Status of permits
The discussion of the current status of the Recharge Water and Forestar permits raised unsettling questions for district residents and apparently for the board as well. Next week’s article will contain a full report.
The board meets again via ZOOM on December 16 at 7 p.m. The agenda will be posted at www.lostpineswater.org on or about December 11. The public is encouraged to attend either online or by telephone to hear important developments with these two permits.