Hays Water War Update
Pending reg bill sparks hope for Hays County water advocates
Lila Knight, Kyle resident, has been working tirelessly with a loosely organized group of Hays County citizens making calls, sending emails, and attending hearings to get a currently unregulated area, or "white zone," of the Trinity Aquifer in Hays County under the protection of a groundwater conservation district. Last Friday, advocates got some good news. House Bill 3405, one of three bills by Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, passed the House. "I was ecstatic that it passed," Knight said. "Now all we have to do is get a Senate bill passed."
HB 3405 expands the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District's authority to include the white zone. Citizens want the law to protect their main source of water from being pumped out from under them by Electro Purification. The Houston-based company plans to pump more than 5 million gallons of water a day (MGD) from the aquifer to sell to growing cities along the I-35 corridor.
The city of Buda, one of the fastest-growing Texas cities, has enough water for current needs, but anticipates needing additional sources by 2017. It was one of the first jurisdictions in the area to sign a contract with EP. The private company contacted Buda in 2010 about providing a Hays County water source, according to Buda City Manager Kenneth Williams, who answered Chronicle questions by email. "Buda was talking with other water entities to obtain water and was not interested in EP at the time," he recalled. As the 2017 deadline for projected shortages drew closer, Williams said, the EP alternative became more likely. Buda now has a contract with EP for 1 MGD to cover water demand projected for 2017-2023 (see "Hays County Water War Continues," May 1).
Citizen organizers wonder why Buda has chosen the arrangement with EP rather than a source of water already available, from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and San Marcos. On April 20, GBRA General Manager Bill West testified at a hearing on HB 3405 that Buda's water needs for the next 10 years could be met by agreements with neighboring cities and a GBRA transmission line. "There are existing water-sharing agreements with Buda and Kyle. San Marcos and Kyle have excess supply that they are willing to share with Buda for seven to 10 years," West said, "and there is capacity in the transmission line for that period to transport the water to Buda."
Louie Bond, Rolling Oaks resident, says the water-sharing deal would be good for all concerned. "It actually helps Kyle and San Marcos because they're paying for all that water even if they don't use it; so if they get a payment from Buda, and Buda gets to use some of that water, then it's great for everybody," she said.
Williams acknowledged that a water-sharing plan exists. "Uncertainty with capable infrastructure to transport this water to Buda led the city to continue to seek other sources of water," he said. "Last year we were told that all capacity in the pipe was committed, and we would have to get approval from entities with ownership in the pipe to bring more water to Buda. Those entities' projections stated they would need all their pipe capacity."
Buda officials have been indecisive about supporting regulation of the white zone. City staff testified as "neutral" in the Natural Resources committee hearing on HB 3405, and then "against" the companion bill in the Senate, SB 1440. "Buda supports the area of the EP project going into a conservation district," Williams said. "However, we are concerned with inequitable production fees and permitting requirements of the project creating more expenses for citizens of Buda versus other users in the conservation district."
BSEACD General Manager John Dupnik said Buda and EP's concern about inequitable treatment is really about wanting special concessions for a project already in the works. "They wanted certain assurances that they would be given a guaranteed permit volume and a guaranteed permit term for up to 10 years," he said. "In my mind, that's special treatment; that's providing exceptions and allowing concessions that wouldn't apply to anyone else," he said. "What we are telling them is that their permit process would be the same process as any other application for pumping in this area."
Dupnik expects that HB 3405 will pass the Senate committee as a substitute bill with amendments, as did SB 1440, the Senate companion bill to HB 3405. After the bill gets out of committee, it goes to the Senate floor to be approved by the full Senate. "At this point, the biggest hurdle is going to be the clock," Dupnik said. "If it gets on the calendar behind something controversial, it could die on the vine."