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Special Water Meeting Set to Vote on Desired Future Conditions

A version of this article is expected to appear in the Giddings Times & News on November 4, 2021

November 8 update: The board voted for reasonable DFCs! We will post a NEWS item on this development very soon.

 

New Desired Future Conditions expected

The Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District is expected to call a special board meeting for 6 p.m., Monday, November 8 at the Bastrop Convention Center. 

The board will deliberate and vote to set the district’s new Desired Future Conditions (DFC) for the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in advance of a Groundwater Management Area 12 meeting on November 12. 

GMA-12 sets final DFC

GMA-12 is the water planning group of five groundwater conservation districts that must set new, area-wide DFC for our aquifers by January 5, 2022. 

The five districts set DFC every five years in terms of average drawdowns in water levels in each district, over a period of fifty years, in this case through 2070. The Texas Water Code requires that DFC must be capable of being “achieved” over that period. 

Water Defenders coalition releases DFC report 

WaterDefenders.org, a coalition of two local 501c3 conservation groups, is encouraging the public to turn out Monday night.  

Coalition partners, Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund and Environmental Stewardship, have published the coalition’s position paper they will present in advance to the Lost Pines board.

Report addresses both drawdown and pumping

SAWDF Board member Andrew Wier co-authored the Water Defenders report with Environmental Stewardship’s Executive Director, Steve Box. 

Wier acknowledged that describing drawdowns in local aquifers as “desired” and “achievable” may seem counter-intuitive to any desire for conserving our aquifers, so the report clarifies the scope of the board’s decision.

The report describes the board’s decision as not only setting new DFC based on average drawdown in water level, district-wide, in the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, but also requires the board to consider and accept the level of pumping that will “achieve” that drawdown by 2070.

Board will focus on Simsboro

At its September meeting, the Lost Pines board agreed to the average drawdown in water levels proposed earlier this year by GMA-12 for the Sparta and Queen City aquifers, as well as for all formations of the Carrizo-Wilcox, except the Simsboro.

The report contends that the board instructed staff that same evening to research reductions in the predicted average drawdown for the Simsboro, in response to information brought forward by Water Defenders.

The board’s direction indicated that the board is willing to re-consider GMA-12’s proposed DFC for the Simsboro in Lost Pines, Wier said. 

Coalition asks for less drawdown and pumping

Wier described the coalition’s motivation is to have the board essentially set a “conservation red line”, or threshold of drawdown and pumping which the district will strive not to exceed. 

The report asks the board to approve, as the 2022 DFC for our portion of the Simsboro, no more than 30,303 acre-feet per year (AFY) of pumping, with a predicted average drawdown in water level of 183 feet. 

The current Desired Future Conditions, set in 2017, envision the same 30,303 increase in pumping in the Simsboro formation by 2070.

The Simsboro’s high quality water is a focal point of several large permits by water marketing and export companies, but according to Water Defenders, it also has a major impact on the Colorado River and its adjoining formations, the Calvert Bluff and Hooper.

Simsboro and Colorado River interact in Bastrop

Water Defenders’ research contends that the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer currently contributes approximately 21,000 AFY, or about the volume of water in Lake Bastrop,  to the Colorado River in Bastrop County. 

Pumping re-directs water

The coalition asserts that 30,303 AFY of pumping will reduce the inflows to the river, down from 21,000 AFY to approximately 8,500 AFY. 

A study done by hydrologist George Rice for Environmental Stewardship shows that approximately 63% of the water collected by increased pumping in the Carrizo-Wilcox is actually “re-directed” away from the Colorado River, and other surface waters, and flows toward the water pumps.

Steve Box noted that his group believes 8,500 AFY of inflows is the bare minimum needed for the Colorado River to survive another drought-of-record like we saw in 2011.

Economic Impact Study done

An “Economic Impact Study”, prepared for SAWDF earlier this year by Wier, estimates that 30,303 AFY of pumping will damage more than 250 domestic/livestock wells in Lee and Bastrop counties, including wells in the Calvert Bluff and Hooper formations. 

Wier said the economic impact for landowners with domestic/livestock wells, including mitigation costs, lost property value, and lost income is conservatively estimated by SAWDF at $100,304,878.

District staff proposes 270% more pumping

The state-approved computer model or “Groundwater Availability Model” (GAM) is used by groundwater districts to assist in setting Desired Future Conditions. 

In October 2021, Lost Pines’ staff introduced a new “S-15” pumping file for use with the new GAM. The S-15 file proposed pumping of 82,839 AFY in the Simsboro formation. 

The coalition notes this level of pumping is 2.7 times greater than the 30,303 AFY pumping level considered in 2017, and results in a predicted average drawdown of 239 feet by 2070.

Proposal would create “losing” river 

Environmental Stewardship estimates that the Colorado River will become a “losing stream” when pumping in the Simsboro formation exceeds approximately 78,000 AFY.

Box said the river conservation group fears that in a future severe drought, there would be little or no groundwater flowing to the river, causing a loss of ecological resilience in support of fish, wildlife, irrigation, or recreation.

Economic impacts updated

Wier noted that SAWDF updated its economic impact study for the coalition report. SAWDF now estimates the S-15 level of  increased pumping proposed by staff will damage more than 500 domestic/livestock wells in Lee and Bastrop counties. 

The study estimates the economic impact for landowners with domestic/livestock wells, including mitigation costs, lost property value. and lost income is conservatively estimated at $155,526,151. 

Report says impacts unreasonable 

Water Defenders bases its request not to exceed 30,303 AFY of pumping and 183 feet of drawdown in the Simsboro on the fact the S-15 proposed drawdowns and pumping would have “unreasonable impacts on surface waters, especially the Colorado River, property rights in groundwater, and damage to domestic/livestock wells”.

Counties ask for conservative DFC

Wier and Box noted that the coalition’s recommendation is in keeping with resolutions of both Lee and Bastrop Commissioner’s Courts passed last summer. Both courts urged Lost Pines to adopt new DFC that are as close as possible to the existing DFC.

WaterDefenders.org is the coalition’s webpage, and includes links to each organization’s website. 

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