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New reports raise new issues related to local groundwater

Report on subsidence risk from groundwater pumping, combined with report on coal ash contamination of groundwater hit "home" in Lee and Bastrop counties.

2 new concerns raised

After 20 years of dodging multiple groundwater export projects, many Lee and Bastrop county residents are acutely aware of the threats posed by over-pumping of our aquifers.

“We are used to asking our groundwater district to sustainably manage local aquifers, and to protect groundwater and the Colorado River from over-pumping,” said Michele Gangnes, one of the founders of SAWDF. “Now two recent studies have raised new concerns about our groundwater.”

State-commissioned study finds high risk of subsidence from groundwater pumping in Lee and Bastrop counties

State water law requires that groundwater districts control subsidence caused by withdrawal of water when they manage groundwater, issue pumping permits and plan for desired future aquifer conditions.

The Lost Pines District has made a finding in its Management Plan that, based on current conditions, subsidence is not a problem in Lee and Bastrop counties, including from groundwater pumping.

A study commissioned by the Texas Water Development Board to help groundwater districts and local stakeholders identify and manage subsidence risks from groundwater pumping was presented to the Lost Pines Board in January.

The study by LRE Water LLC calls into question the long-held belief that subsidence in Texas is largely associated with coastal area aquifers. TWDB will likely require the District to revisit its conclusions about subsidence locally.


The model developed in the study assessed subsidence risks from groundwater pumping on a scale of 1 to 10 for nine major Texas Aquifers.

The study of specific well sites found that the Carrizo-Wilcox was one of five aquifers at high risk of subsidence, with a rating of 4.7.

The Carrizo-Wilcox runs from northeast Texas to Mexico, and its Wilcox Aquifer includes the local Simsboro, Calvert Bluff and Hooper formations under Lee and Bastrop counties.

However, the Lost Pines Board was told in January the overall subsidence risk of the Lee and Bastrop counties portion of the Carrizo-Wilcox is actually 5.3, with the Calvert Bluff and Hooper formations having the highest risk due to greater clay thicknesses surrounding those formations.

In contrast, the Gulf Coast Aquifer’s risk was set at 5.9, the highest subsidence risk of the 9 major aquifers studied.


Read the full report by LRE Water LLC here.

Unsafe contamination levels found in groundwater under local power plants

A report released in January reveals serious groundwater contamination concerns from coal ash disposal around 16 Texas coal-fired power plants. The plants are required to monitor groundwater under the Obama-era “Coal Ash Rule”. Coal ash, which results from burning coal (or lignite) to produce electricity, is a source of carcinogens, heavy metals and neurotoxins.

The Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research and advocacy group, studied the plants as part of its nation-wide initiative on coal waste.

100% contamination below 16 power plants

Based on the new data, the study concluded 100% of the 16 monitored coal plants are leaking contaminants into groundwater at levels unsafe for human consumption.

The report includes the now-closed Sandow Steam Electric Station at Rockdale and four other Luminant power plants, as well as the Fayette Power Project in Fayette County, owned by LCRA and Austin Energy.

Sandow monitor wells all at unsafe levels


The EIP report found all 10 Sandow monitor wells at the lined landfill showed pollution above federal levels, with unsafe levels of sulfate, cobalt, chromium, selenium, lead, lithium, arsenic, mercury and radium, all of which substances can be detrimental to human health. Neurotoxins like lead and mercury are especially dangerous to children.


The report noted the pattern of contamination indicates the contamination may be coming from other unregulated and unmonitored coal ash disposal areas, the old mine or even the landfill itself. The report notes Luminant does not appear to have initiated any further assessments of the contamination.

Read the full Environmental Integrity Project report here.