More Subdivision Water Worries

Pedernales Canyon Trail homeowners worry cluster of new homes next to their upscale community will literally suck the groundwater out from under them

Homeowners along Pedernales Canyon Trail worry that a cluster of new homes next to their upscale community is literally going to suck the groundwater out from under them.

In a neighborhood with riverfront views and neighbors like Dixie Chick Natalie Maines – where home prices range from $350,000 to well more than seven figures – water is a touchy subject. Every house added to this area means a well, and every well means the fickle Trinity Aquifer is going to be shared with one more neighbor. Even a cluster of million-dollar homes on 2-acre lots is enough to bring out the neighbors in protest.

Neighbors raised two issues at Travis Co. Commissioners Court last week: First, the county had failed to protect western Travis County from long-term water woes by creating a groundwater management district during the legislative session that recently ended. And, second, claims by custom-home builder Vincent Spoltore that there is enough water for everyone – including the proposed Vistas at Pedernales Canyon Trail – are ludicrous given the failure of wells on a number of the area's larger lots.

Last week's county hearing was on the second phase of the Pedernales Canyon Ranch – dividing a 26-acre parcel into 11 lots to create Vistas at Pedernales Canyon Trail. Prices on these custom homes will range from $800,000 to $1 million. Neighbor Sybil Autrey, who took the microphone first, said Spoltore would be fortunate to strike water on each of his 11 lots. "The most important point to me, being selfish, is that there were only 15 homes, if I have counted correctly, in that entire Phase II of the Pedernales Canyon Ranch subdivision. This is going to be another 11. … So these 11 wells, which are on less than 10 percent of the property, are going to be commanding 50 percent of the water. … The law requires them to have a reliable source of water. That's the exact terminology, and they don't have a reliable source of water."

Spoltore doesn't exactly have to be lucky, however. All he has to do is have his consulting engineer find – and the county verify – that enough water flow exists to supply the subdivision. That's happened. But it's unclear, even under close questioning from Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, whether the developer has to consider the impact of his proposed subdivision on the access of water to surrounding property.

No one would have a problem with this subdivision if the developer would only wait for the Lower Colorado River Authority to extend its water line out to the subdivision, Autrey said. The line already runs out to Sweetwater on its way to West Cypress Creek. Vistas at Pedernales Canyon Trail would be the next logical subdivision, Autrey said, although LCRA says it has no plans at this time to extend the line that far.

These are beautiful lots on a scenic hillside, neighbor Karen Huber admitted, but they sit smack-dab in the middle of the area with the area's toughest water problems. Huber fears that new technology can literally suck the water out from under the other homes. "Another thing that happens when a developer comes in is that he puts in a powerful well. If that becomes the case for this particular area, he will put in a stronger pump to pull more water out to hold in a holding tank for these homes," said Huber, who sits on an LCRA advisory panel for Lake Travis. "What a strong pump does is pull the water out from under the existing weaker wells."

Spoltore and his team say the wells that will be drilled here will not be on the same level as those used by current residents, who use the middle Trinity Aquifer. Spoltore expects Vista's homeowners to drill down to the lower Trinity Aquifer.

What neighbors wanted – and rebuked county commissioners for failing to accomplish – was the creation of a groundwater district, which would give the region the kind of protections that the county's limited jurisdiction cannot offer, Autrey said.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty acknowledged the water challenges in the area, but noted that any groundwater conservation district would need to include Lakeway. Lakeway is on surface water with its own water system. The implication was that Huber and her neighbors might vote to create a taxing district, but it's unlikely Lakeway residents would agree to pay for their neighbors' woes.

After an hour of discussion that only scratched the surface, County Judge Sam Biscoe sent Spoltore and residents out for further discussion, in the hope that Spoltore's answers on how his consultants came to their conclusions on the water supply might address some of the neighbors' unrest. That's about all the county can do, given the plat meets all the requirements of the county's subdivision ordinance. The case is back on the county's agenda next week. p>

*Oops! The following correction ran in our July 6, 2007 issue: In the June 15 News story "More Subdivision Water Worries," we misidentified custom-home builder Vincent Spoltore as Victor Spoltore. We regret the error.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle