Hays Water Fight Continues
While Senate approves water protections, another battle is on the horizon
Early Saturday morning, Hays County water advocates learned that the Texas Senate had passed HB 3405, which provides for regional management of groundwater, including the Trinity and Edwards aquifers. But as citizens began to celebrate the victory, political storm clouds were gathering: SB 2075, a bill that could begin to unravel the protection of the Trinity Aquifer they've worked so hard for, was placed on the calendar for action.
Then May's real thunderstorms hit, and Hays County citizens were thrown into a crisis as raging floods left devastation along the Blanco River. The Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association, in an email to Hays County citizens, noted the bad timing of SB 2075. According to TESPA, the bill would convert the Needmore Municipal Utility District – an investor-owned 5,000-acre ranch – into a new groundwater conservation district "solely for the benefit of the ranch investors, who would be left to issue groundwater production permits to themselves." TESPA suggested that the Senate wait until citizens, county commissioners, and others in Hays County have an opportunity to respond to this bill.
The HB 3405 substitute bill that passed the Senate late Friday night included amendments representing compromises between water advocates and Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. Perry had added an amendment to the Senate version of the bill that would grandfather the Electro Purification project in Hays County, making it exempt from the permitting process. EP's plans to take more than 5 million gallons of water a day from the Trinity Aquifer was the issue that prompted the need to regulate the zone in the first place.
"The language in the final version was reversed and corrected so that the district now has the tools we need to review these applications," said John Dupnik, general manager of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. "There were compromises." BSEACD's criteria for permitting wells includes a list of factors, narrowed in the legislation to just two: The district can restrict well pumping volume if 1) production volume will cause a failure to achieve desired future conditions for the aquifer; or 2) production volume will cause projected unreasonable impact for existing wells.
Next, Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who filed the original HB 3405, must concur with changes made in the Senate, or the bill will go back to the House committee. Once passed out of the House, the bill goes to the Governor's desk to be signed into law.
In theory, HB 3405 would be sufficient to establish groundwater rules governing the aquifer, and since it passed in the House once, it should easily get through this time. But SB 2075 is trailing in its wake, and a last-minute challenge to the bill on point of order by Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso, may prevent it from getting through the House one last time. It appears that the war over Hays County water has more battles to come.