• Education



    In Los Angeles 'water colony', tribes fear a parched future

    Laurie Goering, Reuters

    June 4 2019



    BIG PINE, California (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When the first white settlers arrived in California’s remote eastern Owens Valley, the name given to its indigenous tribes was Paiute, or “land of flowing water” in the local language.


    But for more than a century, the water in the valley has flowed in just one direction: toward Los Angeles, nearly 300 miles (480 km) away.


    In the early 1900s, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) quietly bought up broad swathes of ranchland and its associated water rights in the once-lush valley, fringed by snow-capped peaks.


    Today, Los Angeles owns more than a quarter million acres in Inyo County, at the valley’s heart - more than half of all land that doesn’t belong to the state or national government.


    The snowmelt that once fed pear orchards and alfalfa fields gushes through an aqueduct into Los Angeles taps and swimming pools.


    The aqueduct paved the way for the city’s expansion from a middling city of just over 300,000 people in 1910 to a still-mushrooming metropolis of 4 million today, historians say.


    But the Owens Valley, now studded with sagebrush, “has been transformed into a desert”, said Alan Bacock, water program coordinator for the valley’s Big Pine Paiute tribe, which is struggling to access enough water to keep its economy alive.


    “We’re a resource colony for Los Angeles,” he said. “We are impacted by the decisions made in Los Angeles, and really have no ability to influence those decisions.”


    Meanwhile, as climate change brings harsher, more frequent droughts in California, it is bringing new threats to families on both ends of the controversial aqueduct.


    The Sierra Nevada snowpack today provides 60% of California’s fresh water, serving 23 million people, according to researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles.


    But the snowpack is expected to shrink more than 60% by the turn of the century if global warming continues at its current pace, they said in a 2018 report.


    Already California has seen less snowmelt than average for six of the past 10 years - with unusually heavy snows in the other years, said Rich Harasick, the LADWP’s senior assistant general manager.

    “It’s a real phenomenon that’s happening here, in the near term,” he said.


    As the state braces for drier times, that suggests it - like much of the U.S. West - may need a rethink both of how scarce water is managed, and of the historic water rights system that gives those holding “senior” rights as much water as they like.


    The American West needs rules “reflective of modern needs and desires, rather than the rules we’ve had for 150 years and have had to stick by”, said Bob Anderson, director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington.


    “That’s the wave of the future,” he added.



    More than 150 years after losing their land to ranchers, who in turn lost it to Los Angeles, several thousand Paiute tribal members still live on a handful of reservations strung along Highway 395, the main artery through the Owens Valley.


    Most - like the Big Pine tribe - effectively ceded their water rights in a 1930s land swap that gave Los Angeles the access it wanted to upstream creeks and forced the tribes to rely on an annual water allocation from the LADWP.


    Just one tribe in Fort Independence refused and retained a clear water right of its own - a 14% share of Oak Creek.


    Today that creek water gushes into old irrigation canals that feed the tribe’s blooming peach and pomegranate orchard.


    But in a parched valley where water is effectively wealth, the flow also has kept economic development efforts afloat.


    Near Oak Creek, the tribe operates a roadside travel plaza with gas pumps, a shop, casino and restaurant, and a campground.


    Nearby, a small backhoe and white work trucks sit parked near the concrete foundation for a new venture - a planned drive-through cannabis shop, as well as a larger travel plaza.











    Texas Water Resources Institute
    Texas Water Journal
    Volume 7, Number 1, Pages 69-81

    Implementing three-dimensional groundwater
    management in a Texas groundwater
    conservation district

    Hilmar Blumberg and Gabriel Collins



    The Guadalupe County Groundwater Conservation District has implemented a 3-dimensional water management solution that allocates pumping rights based on actual volumes in place under a tract. This new regime treats the aquifer as a “constant level lake” where rights holders are awarded the right to a percentage of the inflow (recharge) based on the volume of saturated sands underneath their property.

    Three-dimensional management can improve Texas groundwater governance by strengthening property rights, promoting conservation, and unlocking economic value by promoting water trading and collateralization. It is also cost-effective and can be rapidly implemented: the Guadalupe County Groundwater Conservation District created its initial 3-dimensional ruleset in approximately 4 months at a cost of roughly $15,000. Larger districts or districts that could not benefit from an existing property parcel map created by an appraisal district would face higher costs. Creating the type of property ownership maps used by local tax appraisal districts can cost as much as $100,000. Yet the intensive property tax regime in Texas means that even the least-populous counties typically already have such information available in digital form.

    Quantifying the available water volume beneath each property and making pumping rights transferrable between wells profoundly transforms groundwater management and confers clear vested rights to water in place. As such, it can provide economic recourse to smaller water holders even in areas where municipalities and other large pumpers enter the district.


    In short, this forward-looking, conservation-oriented new ruleset provides a way for Texas groundwater stewards to move past flat surface acreage-based allocations and move into an era where a handful of large pumpers in a district do not erode the property rights of smaller holders.


    Quantifying water in place involves averaging and making certain approximations and generalizations because of the inevitably complex nature of geologic formations. Over time, groundwater conservation districts and their constituent members will determine how deeply to engage that complexity. The bottom line is that 3-dimensional management offers an exponential degree of improvement over existing Texas groundwater management models.


    The Guadalupe County Groundwater Conservation District’s ruleset embraces a philosophy of iterative learning and improvement and acknowledges that employing models as tools of governance always involves approximations. It handles this by including the capacity to rapidly update and revise its approach as the district obtains additional data points and insights through operational implementation of its rules.

    Keywords: rule of capture, groundwater governance, conservation, dormant rights, collateralization, water market, cap and trade

    Hilmar Blumberg ---Director, District 2 and Secretary, Guadalupe County Groundwater Conservation District, Seguin, Texas.

    Gabriel Collins ---Baker Botts Fellow in Energy and Environmental Regulatory Affairs at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, Houston, Texas.


    Please note that in this analysis, Mr. Blumberg and Mr. Collins are expressing their respective personal ideas and opinions and that these do not necessarily reflect the views of the Guadalupe County Groundwater Conservation District or the Baker Institute for Public Policy.
    *Corresponding author: gabe.collins@rice.edu


    Copyright (c) 2016 Gabriel Collins, Hilmar Blumberg


    Read the entirety of this publication here.

    Texas Water Resources Institute
    Texas Water Journal
    Volume 7, Number 1, Pages 1-24

    Conjunctive groundwater management as a response to socio-ecological disturbances: a comparison of 4 western U.S. states

    Zachary P. Sugg - School of Geography and Development,

    The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721;

    Sonya Ziaja - School of Geography and Development,

    The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721; and

    Edella C. Schlager - School of Government and Public Policy,

    The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721

    Abstract: Recent severe droughts in U.S. western and Great Plains states have highlighted the challenges that socio-ecological disturbances can pose for governing groundwater resources, as well as the interconnections between groundwater and surface water and the need to manage the 2 in an integrated way. Conjunctive management recognizes these interconnections and can be used to mitigate disturbances and achieve a variety of water management goals. However, comparative studies of how and to what extent various states have implemented conjunctive management strategies are few. Here we compare and assess the use of conjunctive management practices in 4 western states—Arizona, California, Nebraska, and Texas—with a particular focus on groundwater. Special attention is paid to factors of geography and infrastructure, degree of administrative (de)centralization, and monitoring and modeling in relation to conjunctive management. Despite the commonality of bifurcated regimes for groundwater and surface water, all 4 states have responded to disturbances with conjunctive management strategies in various ways. Although it has groundwater management challenges similar to those in the other 3 states, Texas has overall been slower to adopt conjunctive management strategies. 

    Keywords: groundwater, conjunctive management, Texas, California, Nebraska, Arizona

    Read the entire report here



    The Texas Water Journal is an online, peer-reviewed journal devoted to the timely consideration of Texas water resources management, research, and policy issues from a multidisciplinary perspective that integrates science, engineering, law, planning, and other disciplines. It also provides updates on key state legislation and policy changes by Texas administrative agencies.

    ISSN 2160-5319

    Questions or comments? twri@tamu.edu



    The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

    Facebook (@TexasTribune)~~Twitter (@TexasTribune)~~Instagram (@Texas_Tribune)



    The Water Generation Gap

    Posted by Ari Phillips × November 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Water flows uphill towards money.
    -Common saying in the American West

    The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.
    -American Indian saying

    Just outside of Utopia, Texas, about 80 miles northwest of San Antonio, is a massive 40-foot wide sinkhole that can transport up to 1,770 gallons of water per second into an underground aquifer. On a warm winter day, I stood with Sharlene Leurig near the edge of the sinkhole, imagining water whirlpooling into the inner cavity of the dark limestone abyss after a big rainstorm. The closest we got to that primeval image of foamy whitewash rushing deep into the earth, however, was a video on a cellphone that another observer shared with us. The sinkhole, known as Seco Sinkhole, was bone dry, and was likely to remain so for quite some time. As Texas enters its third consecutive year of drought with above average temperatures, parched summers, strained reservoirs and harsh water restrictions, the record-breaking heat and drought of 2011 may become the new normal for a state accustomed to an ample water supply.

    READ MORE OF THIS AWARD-WINNING ESSAY IN SAGE MAGAZINE, http://www.sagemagazine.org/writing-contest-honorable-mention-the-water-generation-gap-ari-phillips-texas/ --- featuring Sharlene Leurig, director of the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Program at Ceres, a national nonprofit working to advance the integration of sustainability into the global financial markets. Sharlene chaired the recent Water Task Force for the Austin City Council’s Water Task Force, which recommended against resorting to far away water in the Simsboro Aquifer. (See Sharlene’s other fascinating project below.)

    Groundwater Declines Seen, Even in Wet Climates: Studies

    By Amena H. Saiyid

    Aug. 22 — Water availability in the U.S. characterized by four years of drought in the West and more rainfall in the East reflects the nation's geographic extremes from deserts and mountains to low-lying almost tropical swamplands. Even where water seems abundant, increasing demand is stressing the ability to re-charge groundwater supplies everywhere.

    READ MORE OF THIS TIMELY REPORT FROM BLOOMBERG BNA…http://www.bna.com/groundwater-declines-seen-n73014446727/

    Our Desired Future

    “Texas has 500 times more water underground than anything you see above the surface. The question is, how much do we pump and how fast?”



    Texas Senate is Pushed to Streamline Groundwater Regulations


    broken image

    Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) depicted “Gridzilla” during the 2015 legislative decision as “Hydrovascular”

    Angela Neville, Texas Lawyer

    Several attorneys, a Texas university policy group and a number of water rights groups recently urged a Texas Senate committee to simplify state groundwater regulations, saying the regulatory framework makes it difficult for businesses to carry out projects that involve the use of groundwater.


    The Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs heard testimony about state groundwater regulations from 18 witnesses, including several water rights attorneys, members of the Texas Association of Groundwater Owners and Producers and the Texas Desalination Association, and representatives of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Committee Chair Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said at the hearing in late July that the committee intends to study and make recommendations on issues that included the ownership, production and transfer of surface water and groundwater in Texas. Perry also said the committee will monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee during the current session.


    Leonard Dougal and Edward Small, Austin partners at Jackson Walker, were among the attorneys who testified. "It is well known that we have nearly 100 confirmed groundwater conservation districts and two subsidence districts," said Dougal, who represents businesses that develop and use water, including power generation companies and oil and gas producers. "That leads to a patchwork and inconsistent regulation of groundwater in Texas."


    Some counties, Dougal said, have no regulation of groundwater. Other counties have more than one groundwater conservation district. Hays County, even with four separate entities regulating groundwater, still had unregulated aquifers, he said.


    Larger regional authorities that cover an entire groundwater aquifer make more sense than authorities that end at a county line, according to Dougal. A ranch that pumps from a single aquifer but straddles two counties can end up with "different and inconsistent permitting requirements in each county," he said. Texas intends to develop and rely on groundwater to meet the state's future water needs and small groundwater conservation districts hamper the ability to manage and develop the groundwater resources, Dougal said.


    "[M]ost groundwater conservation districts assert jurisdiction over brackish groundwater within their aquifers, but most have little expertise in the management of brackish groundwater and have done little to study the extent of the brackish resources within the district," Dougal said. "This greatly hampers effort to develop brackish groundwater to use for oil and gas or industrial purposes, instead of fresh groundwater."


    Dougal said a better approach would be regional water authorities, overseen with local representation, that follow major aquifer boundaries. "If the legislature does not weigh in on solutions, it will be left to the courts to sort out the proper balance between property rights and regulation and it will mostly certainly take many decades for the courts to do so," he said.


    Dr. Lori Taylor, an economist and associate professor at the Bush School in College Station, Texas, said the regulatory framework "limits the ability of people who own water rights to make the best use of those water assets."


    Texas has "approximately 100 groundwater conservation districts and each district is making individual determinations related to pumping permits, spacing of water wells, and conditions under which the water can be transported out of the individual water conservation districts," she said. That causes water shortages and surplusages and "those differences in supply lead to a difference in price," she said.


    A recent academic report from researchers with the Mosbacher Institute for Trade Economics and Public Policy outlines four alternatives to the regulatory scheme: maintaining the existing groundwater conservation district structure but changing the regulatory process, replacing the groundwater conservation districts with aquifer-based regulatory authorities, replacing the groundwater conservation districts with a statewide groundwater agency or creating groundwater bank accounts.


    "I believe that any of the four solutions spelled out in this report would be an improvement over the current policy in Texas," Taylor said.

    Steve Box (second from left), Executive Director or Environmental Stewardship, Michele Gangnes, for League of Independent Voters of Texas, and Judith McGeary, Executive Director of Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, testify on Gridzilla and water grabs at Senator Perry’s Rural, Water and Agricultural Affairs Committee during the 2015 legislative session.

    Groups opposing water exports create defense fund


    Volunteers from several non-profit groups already fighting major water export projects have joined forces to create the Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense

    Fund (SAWDF).


    The group’s mission, in addition to educational outreach to affected communities, will be to raise funds for legal battles, where protection and conservation of aquifers and important legal rights, are at stake, according to Michele Gangnes, a Lee County attorney. They have filed with the IRS for qualification as a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization, she said.

    SAWDF will also inform local citizens about the effects on aquifers threatened by water marketers’ efforts to pump large quantities of groundwater to San Antonio and other cities along the I-35 corridor, she said. Some of the group’s supporters include volunteers from the League of Independent Voters of Texas, Environmental Stewardship, the Sierra Club and Neighbors for Neighbors. Gangnes had no details at this time on what the group will do specifically in response to the Vista Ridge project in Burleson County.

    Local residents here are organizing to protest the Vista Ridge water export protect from Burleson County to San Antonio. "Burleson and Milam counties are especially challenged with a variety of issues we are looking at,” Gangnes said. “It is no secret that many citizens and organizations across Central Texas and in the two counties are acting to stop the massive Vista Ridge water export, but groundwater lease controversies and frustrations with groundwater district governance have also spurred local citizen pushback.” Gangnes said the response to SAWDF’s efforts to add Burleson and Milam board members and volunteers has been encouraging. “Opportunities to advance our mission and the level of local interest and financial support will determine our next steps there,” Gangnes said.

    Gangnes said several upcoming legal battles will provide good opportunities to protect the area’s groundwater resources. Among the first will be a Bastrop County district court hearing expected this fall, where four landowners are seeking to participate in the well permitting process when the groundwater under their land is threatened by massive pumping, she said.

    Ernie Bogart, a SAWDF board member and Elgin attorney, said the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District denied several area landowners the right to that representation, making it vital to challenge that ruling.

    Andy Meyer, a Bastrop County farmer and SAWDF board member, said the group’s goal “is to make sure the amounts exported are kept within limits that secure the long-term health of our aquifers.”


    For more information, contact Gangnes at (512) 461-3179 or mggangnes@aol.com or Bogart at (512) 281-3326 or ebogart@obrlaw.net.


    Cyrier leads legislative plan to protect groundwater

    Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2015, Elgin Courier

    By Rep. John Cyrier Elgin Courier(R-Lockhart, HD 17)

    The future security of our groundwater supply is one of the most important local issues for residents of Bastrop and Lee Counties. With fair reason, there has been heightened concern in recent years about the future of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer.

    Efforts by municipalities and water marketing companies to pump and export groundwater to elsewhere in the state have introduced new public policy concerns for counties like Bastrop and Lee, which could be greatly affected by such projects if sensible regulations and safeguards are not put into place.

    Read more of Rep. Cyrier’s opinion piece at http://www.elgincourier.com/opinion/article_4452aa00-dd37-11e4-95aa-abf408817525.html

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    Rep. John Cyrier (center), with Lee County Judge Paul Fischer to his left, Giddings Mayor John Dowell to his right,
    and Lee County Commissioner Charles “Chappy” Murray with his back to us, sit with citizens concerned about a Lee County mega-permit
    for Forestar Realty Group, at a Lost Pines Groundwater District Board meeting in 2015.

    Letter to the Editor of Elgin Courier concerning formation of SAWDF and End Op permit, August 2016

    Dear Editor,

    Thank you to all whose public comments and emails helped persuade Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District’s Board to once again postpone action on End Op LP’s groundwater permit. End Op intends to pipe 15 billion gallons of our water annually to Travis, Williamson or Hays County.

    The Vista Ridge pipeline from Burleson County to San Antonio is set to take another 16 billion gallons annually, Alcoa hopes to sell rights to another 19 billion gallons in our counties, and the list goes on. Landowners in Lee, Bastrop and five other counties are currently facing condemnation by private companies for Vista Ridge’s pipeline.

    Those who spoke to the Lost Pines Board last week, including Lee County Judge Paul Fischer, were clearly motivated by concerns for the legacy we leave for future generations. A state administrative judge recommended End Op be given the permit, but three local landowners and one organization are appealing his denial of their right to protest the permit.

    One of the organizations that testified at Lost Pines, the recently formed Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund (SAWDF), is in a fundraising campaign to advocate against removal of unsustainable amounts of our groundwater and to assure a legacy of aquifers that will last forever. SAWDF will assist the End Op landowner appeal and other challenges to actions of for-profit companies and governmental bodies that involve important legal issues. We need the resources to carry out that mission.

    Elginites have always answered the call against water grabs. Please act to protect our future!

    Michele Gangnes, Director


    Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund

    P.O. Box 690

    Elgin, TX 78621-0690

    Impact of Simsboro Pumping on Other Aquifers & Rivers

    Posted by Steve Box, Executive Director, Environmental Stewardship, citing a Report by hydrologist and former Edwards Aquifer Authority Board member, George Rice (link provided)

    A recent study predicts the impact of combined pumping of the Simsboro Aquifer on the other aquifers in the Carrizo-Wilcox Group & Colorado River.


    Model predicts 900 to 1200 feet of drawdown in Burleson and Lee counties by the year 2060 and reduced flow in Colorado River and its tributaries.

    broken image

    Contour map of predicted drawdown in the Simsboro Aquifer from baseline pumping plus End Op, Forestar, Vista Ridge and LCRA pumping.


    The combined pumping in the Simsboro Aquifer is predicted to cause 900 to 1200 feet of drawdown in Burleson and Lee counties by the year 2060 according to groundwater modeling conducted by professional hydrologist George Rice (Click here for Rice Report March 22, 2016). (see below for selected slides prepared by George Rice to illustrate projected conditions in the central Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer)


    READ MORE AT http://www.environstewardship.org/lost-pines-groundwater-conservation-district/impact-combined-pumping-simsboro-connected-aquifers/

    Hydrologist George Rice’s April 22, 2016 presentation of projected effects on central Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer from permitted pumping

    SAWDF joins Environmental Stewardship and other groups on July 20, 2016 in comments to Lost Pines GCD upon adoption of proposed Desired Future Conditions:

    broken image



    July 20, 2016


    The constituents of the following organizations include the general public and landowners of property in Lee and Bastrop counties located over the recharge zones and the down-dip portions of the formations of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. They also include citizens and landowners who live adjacent to or near the Colorado River, or who enjoy the benefits of the Colorado River. Our constituent landowners own groundwater in place and have a right to conserve and protect their individual fair shares of the water resources in the commonly shared aquifers in the Lost Pines GCD. The landholdings of these constituents in Lee and Bastrop counties are considerable. Landowners will suffer whatever drawdowns are allowed to occur as a result of the District’s setting of Desired Future Conditions for these aquifers, and they are concerned that their property values and their local economies must be, but are not being protected in the Desired Future Conditions process. Likewise, members of the general public will be affected by the District’s Desired Future Conditions process, and, like landowners, are entitled to the protection, preservation and conservation of the aquifers on which they depend. We urge the adoption of the proposed DFCs by Lost Pines GCD, subject to the above comments and the same reservations, comments and requests described in the attached comments of Environmental Stewardship.


    We submit these comments to adopt and amplify the comments and requests of Environmental Stewardship as if we were original signatories to the comments. We respectfully request those comments and this Appendix A be included in the official record of the District’s July 20, 2016 hearing on proposed Desired Future Conditions.


    Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund is a Central Texas nonprofit organization whose 501(c)(3) status is pending and whose purposes are to educate and assist citizens and landowners over the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer who want to protect, preserve and conserve groundwater and surface water for the benefit of future generations; to support environmentally sound and sustainable use, production and conservation of water; and to protect the legal, equitable and civil rights, and property values, of landowners who seek to conserve and protect their groundwater.


    Neighbors for Neighbors is a 501(c)(3) Central Texas nonprofit organization working for sustainability of natural resources, clean air and water, and holding those who exploit natural resources accountable. Neighbors for Neighbors has supported the good work of the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District since it first advocated for the District’s formation.


    League of Independent Voters of Texas is a Texas 501(c)(4) social welfare, nonprofit organization whose purpose is to research, develop, advocate and educate citizens on legislative, regulatory and program reforms that address issues that cross political party lines, including protection of land, air and water. The League’s members helped author and worked for the passage of HB3163 in the 2015 legislative session.                                                       


                                                             LEAGUE OF INDEPENDENT VOTERS OF TEXAS

                                                                NEIGHBORS FOR NEIGHBORS


                                                                                    By: Michele G. Gangnes, Authorized Representative