Dear Friends of Texas Groundwater:
The 2021 Legislative Session is in full swing, and anything can happen--- and is happening ---- on many fronts.
We are focused on Water Legislation --- we can't afford to go to sleep on this issue, no matter how many other pressing issues are pending. We have learned that distracted legislators can let their guard down on legislation that may not seem to be on fire, but turns out to be very important.
Please see our Home page, here, for a few more thoughts on how important our legislative response is, AND to see how much we all owe to SAWDF board member, Bastrop County landowner, SAWDF videographer and volunteer public advocate Andy Wier, for all he is doing to advance landowner property rights in this legislative session! HB 3619 is "Andy's Bill"!
In the middle, Andy Wier doing what Andy does best --- mapping, planning his next video, and advocating for landowners! Also pictured are Mary Wier and Lewis Sharpe at a SAWDF organizing meeting.
Here is information on the "fires" burning on groundwater as of Tuesday, April 6, when the Texas House Natural Resources Committee convenes in public hearing at 8. a.m.
We need your action before they gavel in on Tuesday, unless you are able to testify in person. If you wait to submit written comments (and/or call legislative offices to express your opinion) after the hearing has started on Tuesday, the Committee may act on these bills without seeing or hearing your input. (See below about calling offices.)
When you submit comments in person or in written form, lead off with a statement that you are FOR or AGAINST HB [Bill #] --- if you are "neutral" on the legislation, but want to raise important points, questions, changes that need to be made, or criticisms of the bill, say that you are testifying "ON" [Bill #]
Texas residents who wish to electronically submit comments related to agenda items on this notice without testifying in person can do so until the hearing is adjourned by visiting: https://comments.house.texas.gov/home?c=c390
The above link to electronically submit comments is specific to the Tuesday agenda in the Natural Resources Committee ---please notice that when you are representing yourself in making the comments, you should include your occupation as well.
SAWDF respectfully asks you to consider attending or send comments supporting:
- HB 3619 [Rep. Bowers] This bill inserts language that requires Groundwater Conservation Districts [GCDs] to consider unreasonable effects on “exempt wells” when determining whether to grant or deny a permit for large non-exempt wells.
- This bill is HUGE for landowners! (Thanks to Andy!)
- The bill empowers, and legally requires, GCDs to include domestic, livestock, or irrigation wells in their deliberations before granting a permit.
- The legislation was originally filed in 2017 by Representative Tracy King, current Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee.
- The legislation has bi-partisan support. Our own HD-17 Representative John Cyrier (Lee and Bastrop counties) has voiced his support. If you live in Burleson County, your representative, Rep. Ben Leman has shown in the past he's interested in your property rights in groundwater ~~ get in touch with him and ask him to help move HB 3619. The same if you live in Milam County! SAWDF saw Rep. Wilson's office stand up for you at the Post Oak GCD in 2019 on the Vista Ridge project. (Rep. Wilson is on the Committee).
- Similar legislation to HB 3619 was filed in the TX Senate by Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (Bastrop County) and is supported by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (Lee, Burleson and Fayett counties] ~~ get in touch with their offices, too, and urge them to stand firm on that legislation. If you live in Milam County, call Sen. Schwertner’s office and ask him to support Sen. Eckhardt’s companion bill in the Senate.
Items you might want to share with the Natural Resources Committee if they relate to you:
- You are a landowner with an exempt well, or plan to drill a well in the future.
- Your water well ran dry in the last year, because it was NOT considered by the GCD when granting a permit for Vista Ridge.
- You have spent thousands/hundreds of dollars contesting a permit, in an attempt to have the GCD consider unreasonable effects to your water well.
- You support HB 3619.
SAWDF respectfully asks you to consider attending or send comments questioning/against:
- HB 3972 [Rep. King, Chairman] This bill inserts language that requires a singular contestant to a permit, or any parties filing a suit against a GCD to obtain a ’surety bond’ in an amount that covers the court costs and legal fees of the GCD and the permittee. The bond must be increased for any appeal.
- This bill was filed by the Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Representative Tracy King.
- We wrote to Rep. King, and he states that the bill is a “work-in-progress,” filed for a constituent who felt they were the target of frivolous lawsuits.
- The Texas Water Code §36.066(g) and §36.102 currently grant groundwater conservation districts (GCDs) the ability to recover attorney’s fees, costs for expert witnesses, and other costs incurred by the GCD in any suit to enforce its rules, in which the GCD prevails.
Items you might want to share with the Natural Resources Committee:
- Requiring a ’surety bond’ will discriminate against affected parties that lack financial resources.
- For example: The group of landowners currently contesting a permit application by the LCRA banded together, and through bake sales, garage sales and donations raised thousands of dollars for legal representation and expert witnesses. The GCD had to employ outside litigators to represent the District and a separate lawyer to represent the GCD Board. The LCRA chose to hire two outside lawyers to augment its own inhouse counsel staff, significantly increasing its legal costs.
- Under this bill, the landowners might have to raise exponentially more funds to purchase a surety bond, just to have their voices heard by their GCD.
- The bill does not address reasonable legal fees by the GCD or permittee. In the example above, the GCD and/or permittee could theoretically increase their legal fees until the affected parties can no longer afford the surety bond necessary to participate.
- This bill appears to be an attempt to discourage ‘frivolous’ legal action against a GCD. Simply making it too costly to take someone to court is not a just or equitable solution, nor is it “frivolous” to defend one’s property rights!
- The right to defend one’s property rights, bestowed by the State of Texas, should never be compromised simply to get a law passed, when there are current laws that address ‘frivolous’ lawsuits.
SAWDF respectfully asks you to consider attending or send comments supporting:
- HB 2652 [Rep. Larson] This bill would establish an advisory board to study surface water and groundwater interaction.
- Environmental Stewardship, the guardian of the Colorado River in our region, supports this bill, and will be there to testify for it.
- You might want to point out to the Committee, the connection between groundwater and surface water is well-recognized, and that, therefore, more data benefits everyone, including landowners with groundwater rights.
If for some reason you are not able to offer written comments, we hope you will take a little time to make phone calls to each member of the Committee ~~ go here to our legislative page for all of those names and numbers.
Please note if you are in Milam County, your Representative, Terry Wilson, is a member of the Committee, so when you call member offices, let Rep. Wilson's staff know you are a constituent.
If you are in Lee or Bastrop counties, please call Rep. John Cyrier (pronouned "Sear ee ay") at 512.463.0682, and thank him for supporting HB 3619 and ask him to question or oppose HB 3972, in its current form, and support HB 2652.
If you are in Burleson or Fayette counties, please call Rep. Ben Leman at 512.463-0600 and ask him to support HB 3619, as Rep. Cyrier is doing. (Cyrier and Leman share a desk in the House Chamber). Also ask Rep. Leman to question or oppose HB 3972, in its current form, and support HB 2652.
The Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund [SAWDF] thanks you for your involvement in the legislative process and in your Groundwater Conservation District.