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Water exports threaten wells, rivers across area

 

Giddings Times & News, April 15, 2021

Local groups challenge groundwater drawdowns

Two local 501c3 nonprofit conservation groups have announced their concerns with newly proposed allowable groundwater drawdowns in the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, especially in Bastrop and Lee counties.

 

Both groups contend that local groundwater districts who are members of Groundwater Management Area 12 (GMA-12) should not allow any deeper drawdowns without fully considering the impacts of massive pumping projects in the Post Oak and Lost Pines groundwater conservation districts, on both domestic and livestock wells, as well as the Colorado and Brazos river systems.

 

The Lost Pines district (Lee-Bastrop counties) and Post Oak Savannah district (Burleson-Milam counties) are members of GMA-12, along with three other districts comprised of Fayette, Brazos, and eight other counties.

 

An analysis of well impacts was performed for the Elgin-based Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund (SAWDF)by one of its directors, Bastrop county landowner Andrew Wier.

 

According to his analysis, more than 195 domestic and livestock wells that pump groundwater from the Carrizo formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in Bastrop and Lee counties will go dry if GMA-12’s newly proposed allowable drawdowns are adopted by Lost Pines.

 

Wier also concluded that at least 19 more of these so-called “exempt” wells in the Carrizo will need to be redrilled and their pumps lowered. SAWDF expects area wells in other formations, including the Calvert Bluff and Simsboro, will likely run dry, too.

 

Bastrop-based Environmental Stewardship has expressed concern that massive pumping is already projected to impair the Colorado River.

 

In December, Environmental Stewardship presented data to GMA-12 that showed allowable drawdowns adopted by GMA-12 in 2017 will result in less groundwater flowing into the Colorado River.

 

Keep drawdowns the same

The two groups have asked GMA-12 members, and specifically the Lost Pines district to retain their existing drawdown limits for another five years to allow full consideration of new data on impaired wells and surface water.

Since 2005, GMAs across Texas have engaged in legally mandated joint planning over each five-year period on a rolling basis. Periodic public meetings lead to the adoption of proposed “desired future conditions” (DFC) for the major and minor aquifers in each management area.

In GMA-12, the DFC are expressed in terms of "the desired, quantified condition of groundwater resources” (water levels) within each formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in GMA-12 at the end of a 50-year rolling horizon. These DFC are commonly referred to as “allowable drawdowns” or “drawdown limits”.

Each district in GMA-12 sends an authorized representative to the GMA as a voting member, but the GMA is not considered by the Texas Water Development Board as an official or “legal” body that can be sued for its actions.

DFCs recommended to its member districts by GMA 12 in 2010 and again in 2016 were adopted, unchanged, by those districts, after the required 90-day public comment period and public hearing in each district.

New DFC recommended

In March, 2021, GMA-12 adopted, with the requisite two-thirds vote of its members, what appeared to be the latest set of recommended DFC that typically start the 90-day comment periods.

 

Groundwater management areas are required to propose desired future conditions by May 1, 2021, and adopt final desired future conditions by January 5, 2022. Groundwater districts must act to adopt their own DFC within that period.

Wells already impacted

The projections of well impacts by SAWDF are based in part on existing conditions in Burleson and northeastern Lee counties, where local Carrizo wells have already been physically and financially compromised by pumping for San Antonio by the Vista Ridge project in Burleson County.

 

SAWDF director Wier’s analysis included well data in the two counties and how future pumping by large projects like Vista Ridge will impact even more wells in future.

Increased drawdowns but no cutbacks

The drawdown limits recommended by GMA-12 in March will allow drawdowns in the Carrizo formation for Lee and Bastrop counties over the next 50 years to increase to 138 feet. Increased drawdowns in other formations affected by large export permits also were approved.

 

SAWDF director and Lee County landowner Michele Gangnes said the increased drawdown numbers give mega-projects the green light to pump their maximums and drain even more domestic wells in the process.

 

“And as long as those drawdown numbers aren’t exceeded, groundwater districts cannot order those exporters to cut back on their pumping,” Gangnes said.

Colorado River depends on groundwater

In its December report to GMA-12 on surface water impacts, Environmental Stewardship presented data that showed current allowable drawdowns will result in less groundwater flowing into the Colorado River.

 

The Texas Water Development Board estimates that up to 30 percent of the water in the state’s rivers comes from intersecting aquifers, said Steve Box, executive director of ES.

“During the recent drought of record, almost all of the water in the Colorado flowing through Bastrop and Fayette counties was contributed by the aquifers,” Box said. “Current allowable drawdowns by GMA-12 will turn the Colorado from a ‘gaining’ to a ‘losing’ river.”

GMA to meet again

GMA-12 is now scheduled to meet again on April 20, apparently to further consider proposed revisions to allowable drawdowns.

 

The following day, April 21, the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District, which includes Bastrop and Lee counties, is scheduled to meet and consider adopting the drawdown numbers set by GMA-12.

SAWDF asks for maps

In March, SAWDF asked GMA-12 and the Lost Pines district for maps showing the projected drawdowns for the next 50 years. so that landowners can see possible impacts on their wells. Wier said the group will submit public information requests if that data is not provided.

“Landowners should have the right to know how much of their groundwater will be drained and where it is going,” Wier said.

Wier said landowners must be able to plan for the increased cost of pumping groundwater, or the possible loss of water altogether for their houses and livestock. began reporting well failures only months after the Vista Ridge project began pumping up to 18 billion gallons per year from the Carrizo and Simsboro formations for San Antonio.

At the same time, the Lost Pines district is considering granting another permit for extensive pumping and export of Simsboro groundwater.

Well data collected by Wier for SAWDF also showed that land served by the endangered Carrizo wells in the Lost Pines district, may represent at least $110 million in county property appraisals.

Landowners in northeastern Lee County began reporting well failures only months after the Vista Ridge project began pumping up to 18 billion gallons per year from the Carrizo and Simsboro formations for San Antonio.

At the same time, the Lost Pines district is considering granting another permit for extensive pumping and export of Simsboro groundwater.

The permit request pending before the LPGCD is from the Lower Colorado River Authority, which seeks to pump and export up to eight billion gallons annually from eight wells it plans to drill in northeastern Bastrop County, near Paige.

For more on the April 20 GMA-12 meeting, go to: GMA 12 Agendas & Minutes – POSGCD. For more information on public input on this issue, go to https://www.environmental-stewardship.org/

and https://www.simsborowaterdefensefund.org

SAWDF editor's note: Go to

https://www.environmental-stewardship.org/groundwater-management-area-12-gma-12/gma-12-dfc-review-2018-22/  for Environmental Stewardship information.

SAWDF editor's note: Segments of Vista Ridge pipe waiting to be laid in Lee County in 2019. The pipeline was routed through Lee and Bastrop counties to parallel the Three Oaks Mine site that straddles the Lee-Bastrop county line. SAWS professes to own another 15,000 acre-feet of Simsboro water rights in and and near the mine. The Vista Ridge pipeline was configured to someday access that water, too.

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