Monday, August 30, 2010
Update, 2:30 pm – We received this response from the Texas Water Development Board public information office to our questions about the city's proposed central wastewater system project: 1. Is the Board holding a hearing on the City's project on Sept. 16? The original Board meeting date was 9/16, which has changed to 9/23. Pending a completed review, it is anticipated that the Board will consider this application on the Finance Committee Agenda as well as the Board Consent Agenda. 2. Did the TWDB ask the City to hold a public hearing by August 30/31 to discuss the project? No, the TWDB has not requested the City to hold a meeting August 30 or August 31. 3. Is the TWDB questioning the City's ability to pay for the project? TWDB staff has identified that this project will be relatively expensive for the users of the system.
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Gary "Catfish" Pigg
Wimberley voters will get another chance on Saturday, Sept. 18 to pick who they want representing them in the disputed Place 2 seat on the city council. Incumbent Mac McCullough and challenger Gary "Catfish" Pigg are squaring off for a second time, after a district judge last month declared the initial May 8 municipal election void and ordered a new election.
We are told this is only the second time that an election in Hays County has been overturned by the courts, which – by itself – is significant. All registered voters in the Wimberley city limits are eligible to vote.
Emotions are still running high and raw between the two candidates and their respective camps. Once again, McCullough and Pigg will get a chance to attest to their worthiness, and their positions on the issues, at a candidate forum scheduled tonight, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Wimberley Valley Chapter. The forum gets under way at 7 p.m. at the Wimberley Community Center, Blanco Room.
The RoundUp spent some time on the phone this morning interviewing Mr. McCullough and Mr. Pigg. We covered a lot of area, including some of the background of Mr. Pigg's civil lawsuit that forced the new election, the intensely emotional brouhaha that has erupted over the council's recent decision to close Las Flores Rd, the city's proposed wastewater plant and loan application with the state, and, not least, transparency in decision-making at city hall.
The interviews have been edited for style and length. We'll start with the challenger Mr. Pigg and end with Mr. McCullough.
Q & A with Mr. Pigg
Q: Tell us about your civil suit challenging the May 8 election.
A: From what I understand, it was the second time in history of Hays County that it has happened (overturning an election). I met with Joyce Cowan (county elections administrator). She said she had run it (the May 8 results/a two-vote margin) four or five times and it would come back the same all the time. Just by visiting with her I decided not to ask for a recount. I trust Ms. Cowan. During the meeting she made me aware that she thought – the word she used was shenanigans, and was going to write a letter to the district attorney to investigate. We started looking at the rolls and sure enough found some things that weren't right.
We got an attorney (David Rogers - Austin) and filed a petition (in district court contesting the election). This is the only way, for a district judge to look at the evidence. On the third (scheduled) court date we had Judge Crawford. Before we could get started, Mr. McCullough's attorney stood up and said 'we would agree to a re-election.' My heart was happy but my gut was wrenched because nothing was going to happen to the people who changed their addresses to vote in the city election.
Mr. Pigg said his "camp" had paid the fee for his attorney, $5,000.
[Note: Mr. Pigg said the Wimberley View editor was present for the court hearing but did not follow up with a story – although a story was published later on the city's call for a new election that mentioned the judge's ruling. Mr. Pigg said apparently the paper invited Mr. McCullough to submit his version through a guest commentary, which was then followed up by a commentary from Pigg published on the front page.]
Q. The Las Flores Rd closure by the city council really stirred up a lot of people. How is this issue playing into the election and your campaign?
A. I have gained supporters over it. Of course the closing of Las Flores has made 10 or 12 families happy; for another 400 families, unhappy. I don't want to close it personally. It's just the process, the same old thing at city hall; they're going to do what they want to do. There was no feasibility study, no let's talk to the neighbors, no public input. At first it was decided not to do it and two weeks later (the council) voted to do it. The problem is still the same, there's still traffic going through a neighborhood, now it's all on La Buena Vista. It seemed like there was such a big hurry to make decisions on (the council). One thing I learned being on the school board for ten years – without community support and a clear idea of where you're going, people in Wimberley will get really upset. It's a public road and it's not fair if the public can't use it.
I've talked to both sides and one side blames the other for whatever reason. One side says they're trying to kill our children; the other side they are making their children ride their bicycles down the middle of the street. It's time for all that to stop. We're neighbors and we need to love each other. And it's too bad the council has created this. It's the same thing with the sewer (proposed city central wastewater system). Some will personally benefit from it who are pushing it for their agenda. We need transparency in that office and until that happens more and more people are going to be disheartened with our city government.
Q. Questions have arisen about the petition (with 500-plus names) submitted to the council by opponents of the road closing – that it includes names of people who did not sign it or were not asked to be on the list.
A. I believe that Madonna and Mr. Bullock are honorable people. Obviously I don't know (about all the names on the list). It goes to one of my theories that so many people are fed up with their local government; that's happening more and more in our city. They are just so disgusted they feel they have no control . . . so they say I'll sign it, don't bother me any more. The more I go into it the more disgusted I am about things.
Q. A big issue before the city is its application to the Texas Water Development Board for a loan ($4.8 million) to build a central wastewater system. What's your take on this project, and its handling by the city?
A. It's not too late for the sewer thing. The Texas Water Development Board has met with our city officials and told them they have to have a public hearing. The water development board is concerned about whether we (city) can afford the sewer or not. (The city) was told to have a hearing before Aug. 30 and there's been nothing in the paper. Nothing, nothing, nothing. It's business as usual down there. It is a certain day, I think it was Aug. 30. They want city hall to have a hearing to discuss it with the public and the property owners.
[The RoundUp called Mayor Bob Flocke, and we had a call in to the water development board at press time. Mayor Flocke said it is "not true" a pubic hearing has been requested. "The only thing I know about is we're going before the (water development) board for their September meeting to see if they're going to approve the loan. I would say they have not (asked the city for a public hearing)."]
Q & A with Mr. McCullough
Q. What's your take on the civil suit brought by Mr. Pigg against the May 8 election?
A. I don't know it was overturned in as much as when Mr. Pigg sued me in his lawsuit he asked for one of two recourses – be declared the winner or order a new election. We went to the judge and offered to subject ourselves to a new election. In the initial hearing before the judge we were looking at deposing over 30 citizens. The judge was going to call them in, put them under oath and ask them how they voted. The citizens I talked to didn't like that idea at all. My comment to the judge was that I would rather win via being elected by the citizens and voters than I would by trying to win at the courthouse, rather than trying to out-lawyer someone. Sometimes the facts get lost in the circumstances.
I paid for my own lawsuit. Obviously I didn't go looking for it. A well known Wimberley area developer acknowledged to me, publicly, that he is funding this lawsuit (for Mr. Pigg). I find it interesting why a prominent developer is funding Gary's lawsuit.
Q. What about the council's decision to close Las Flores Rd? It has blossomed into quite a controversy.
A. Mr. Pigg has gone out and obviously taken advantage of a situation where I was trying to protect the neighborhood and he's got the other neighborhood all flamed up to vote for him and punish me for what I did for one neighborhood. I understand that, it's politics. (Mr. McCullough said he would not change his position on the closure if he is re-elected.)
We do our best to comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act. I think we go far and above. We post every meeting, every agenda. In direct reference to the Las Flores situation, we held one public meeting at the community center, a completely special meeting to (assess) the situation. It's appalling to me that we had 35 residents show up and now when Mr. Pigg whips up the crowd . . . I am completely proud of how we've been handling public input . . . this is 2010, we don't do back room deals. We can take any scrutiny you want.
Q. The city's central wastewater system project has been bubbling below the surface for some time and there doesn't seem to be a lot of public awareness about it or its status. What can you tell us?
A. Over the past two years we've had three public hearings and public meetings (including with the city's wastewater board) about the viability, sustainability and the affordability of a wastewater sewer plant. We've discussed it in detail. (Mentions $150,000 study in partnership with the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority.) We've shared that information. The Texas Water Development Board is meeting in mid-September to approve a loan request, two-part loan request, for about $4.8 million to help loan us the money to develop the sewer plant.
We've got a community in Wimberley where there's no central sewer system. The entire business core is downtown. As it happens, we're right in the very middle of the drain field that sits between the river and the creek. The drought last year forced us to look seriously at how we can protect the creek and the river. We have to come to grips with the idea of getting a real sewer plant and getting the downtown off septic tanks. We don't have public restrooms. My wife owns probably one of the most viable businesses in downtown, and it's the de facto public restroom. When you have to wait ten minutes to take care of your business . . . it's pathetic in this day and age that we don't have a central sewage system.
[Mr. McCullough explained that shops on the square, including the Wimberley Cafe restaurant, are required to submit their water bills to the city as a way to monitor their consumption. "The city is monitoring the use because we've overbuilt on top of the septic systems. We've paved over them. They are failing, so the way to protect them from total failure is to limit the use." Most (not the cafe) are restricted to about 25 gallons daily, which means they cannot allow use of their facilities to all comers. The cafe's allotment is larger because it serves many more people and has a larger septic system in place.]
(On the loan application and the reported requirement from the water development board for another public hearing): I would refer you to City Administrator (Don) Ferguson. I know we have rescheduled the loan hearing at least one time. If someone's questioning it I'd like to see it in writing and I have not heard from our city administrator. I think the loan application is processing normally.
Q. How will the city pay for the system?
A. I believe we can bring this (wastewater project) in for about $2.5 million. We don't have an ad valorem tax. It will be paid for by the users only. It will not be subsidized from the general budget. Right now we've got about 300 users; that's our projected number and we believe it's an accurate number.
Q. What about actual hook ups?
A. Using my own example, the cafe might be only one customer but will qualify (be charged) as four users (estimated hookup cost of $40,000). We're hoping to drive that down to around $2,000 (for the smaller users and accounts) when we actually get competitive. We have other alternatives; we've not been able to consider them yet but we have alternatives for other (wastewater) providers. We've got Aqua Texas who can be a good provider for us.
[Mr. McCullough did not directly address how many actual hookups are planned nor whether the city intends to force businesses on to the system. We didn't ask. But it is an issue that is likely to draw a lot of resistance and controversy.]
I'm not condemning septic systems. I believe on smaller residential use it's a very well proven concept but when we're sitting in the downtown area in the immediate proximity of the creek and river with the growth we're experiencing . . . we don't want to lose the creek and river (to sewage pollution or) for any reason. The city not only can but has to lead the way in conservation and development of a sewer plant. We have to express this to the users, the residents, to our visitors. We also have to lobby our groundwater conservation districts to put these same feelings and protections in place.
Posted by RoundUp Editor at 2:05 PM
Friday, August 27, 2010
(Preseason Dallas at Oakland Raiders/nflnewsworld)
We're picking up that deep chasms have formed in both the local GOP and Democratic teams, with factions headed in opposite directions in who they will support for county judge and state rep in November
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Update, Aug. 30 – Hays County Judge candidate Dr. Bert Cobb is recovering from back-to-back back surgeries. We wish him a speedy recovery.
By Bob Ochoa
Political signs are springing up all over the county, signaling the start of an election campaign season that is sure to be a humdinger. NFL fans also are gearing up for football season. We'll see if the preseason top-seeded Cowboys can make it all the way this time. After many fumbled tries, they certainly are overdue a trip to the Super Bowl.
We are longtime Cowboy fans and eagerly anticipate the upcoming game action, but the Roundup's focus will be on the Nov. 2 general election. The question "Do we really want the worst-ever Texas Governor Rick Perry hanging around for another four years?" will be at the top of the ballot, followed by State Court of Appeals, Railroad Commissioner and so forth, and on down to State Representative (District 45), Hays County Judge, two county commissioner seats (Precincts 2 & 4), and more. Early voting starts Oct. 18. If you are not registered to vote, please do so and join in on the fun. Oct. 4 is the registration deadline for the Nov. 2 general election. For more information, contact the Hays County Elections Office at 512.393.7310, or visit their website: http://www.elections.co.hays.tx.us/
RoseOf particular interest to the RoundUp will be the races for State Representative (Isaac vs. Rose) and County Judge (Cobb vs. Barton). Patrick Rose (D), vying for his 4th term in the Texas House of Representatives, not surprisingly, is raising more campaign cash and has a much bigger bankroll than his Republican challenger Jason Isaac. Both are from Dripping Springs. Isaac will not be a throw-away challenger. He has a good chance at toppling Rose. Many big issues important to Hays Countians will be at the Legislature's doorstep after the election, come January – issues related to water, development, redistricting and the state's deficit and budget. We'll need a wise head representing us who is not so tied to special interests and hidden agendas.
We hear that San Marcos doctor Bert Cobb (R) is out shaking voters' hands and making new friends. Cobb was a virtual political unknown before he unexpectedly won the GOP nomination for Hays County Judge in the March primaries. We like it that Dr. Cobb is not well schooled in the art of politics, he's just straight "Cobb" – what you see is what you get. We also like it that Cobb is a Master Naturalist and Texas Watershed Steward. Here's what he says in his website: "As Hays County grows, we must ensure that future growth complements our community rather than detracting from it." In contrast, Pct. 2 County Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Mountain City/Buda/Kyle) is an old political pro, slick, self assured (as a campaigner), and he's also not so good at returning constituents' phone calls. Seems he's been spending a lot of time at his other job with an engineering firm in Austin. We expect Barton will out-raise and out-spend Cobb during the campaign. And we expect a large portion of Barton's money will come (already has) from outside the county, some of it from parties that do business with the county.
The outcome of these races will say a lot about what kind of direction voters want to take on growth and development in the county, the management of our water resources, and of course, the level of cronyism we are, or are not, willing to accept.
Deep chasms, and Conley fading
Rose & Conley, election night 2008The RoundUp is picking up that deep chasms have formed in both the local GOP and Democratic parties, with factions headed in opposite directions in who they will support for county judge and state rep. Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley's influence among the Republican faithful is in a steep nose dive, so it's questionable how much help he can actually deliver to Democrats Barton and Rose. It's no secret that many Dems (more than the normal number in a countywide election) will be crossing over in November and voting for Republicans Cobb and Isaac.
A well informed source told the RoundUp, for example, that "maintstream Republicans (some "heavy hitters" among them) have walked away from Conley." HONESTY, HONESTY, HONESTY is what they want from their elected officials and candidates. "They don't like being told one thing and they go and do something else. They don't want to go back to Powers' (former Republican County Judge Jim Powers) time" of low levels of on-the-job service and accessibility. Cobb "at least is someone not tied to anyone. That's what Republicans and Democrats are seeing . . . they don't believe Barton will listen or can learn anything at this point."
Elections, NfL kickoffs
Labor Day is the traditional political campaign season kickoff. This year it falls on Monday, Sept. 6. The NFL's kickoff game is scheduled Sept. 9 with a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys travel to D. C. for their opener against the Redskins on Sept. 12. Sizing up the strenghs and weaknesses of your favorite teams and players is much akin to sizing up your candidates for public office. Let's break out the drinks and snacks and have some fun! Keep your eyes on the ball, and remember to keep sending your news tips to the RoundUp.
Posted by RoundUp Editor at 2:50 PM
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
"If there's a problem with the bookkeeping, this office has had nothing to do with it," Skipton said. " . . . I'm not going to be the one holding the bag."
Send your comments and news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org, to Mr. Skipton at email@example.com, to Mr. Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org, to the Hays Trinity Groundwater District at email@example.com, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story
The groundwater district's website: http://www.haysgroundwater.com/
By Bob Ochoa
The most recent meeting of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors was held Thursday, Aug. 19, at the Wimberley Community Center. This is the elected Board, of course, that is charged with preserving and protecting the main source of drinking water for about 35,000 residents in the western half of Hays County: The blessed Trinity Aquifer.
The meeting (attended by a handful of faithful observers and several folks who had big business before the Board) was called to order at 6:06 p.m. by new Board president Jimmy Skipton (District 1-Henly/Dripping Springs-west). Jimmy is a plain spoken fellow and can be quite the showman. By all appearances, he's having great fun serving as president. On this particular occasion, he presided over a long and raucous session much like the ringmaster at a three-ring circus.
Not to denigrate anyone on the Board, or their intentions – but this 3 and 1/2 hour long "meeting" was all down hill from the word go, punctuated by short tempers, shouting matches, name calling, charges of conflict of interest and statements about the "water fairy" saving our groundwater supply. Skipton also gave a boisterous defense that "this Board" is "NOT DYSFUNCTIONAL!", contradicting a recent report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that the District IS exactly "dysfunctional" in its current form. (The report, the TCEQ and the Legislature will be figuring prominently in a possible reformation of the HTGCD to include western Comal and Travis counties. Some political and special interests in Hays County will be fighting tooth and nail to make sure that never happens. See the very lucid report for more details.)
[Note: We're thinking the Board could serve the public much better if it considered shortening its agenda and is better prepared to discuss the background of these very important matters and their implications on the long term health of our water supply.
A Board that makes decisions on the fly, seat o' the pants style, won't cut it. Thousands of people who depend on private wells for their water are getting the short shrift when we have a Board that approves more pumping from the aquifer based on how generous it is feeling on a given day. The groundwater district, in 2008, estimated that private home (so-called exempt, non-regulated) wells are drawing 783.3 million gallons from the aquifer each year. This does not include the hundreds million more gallons being withdrawn by the regulated public water companies. Our groundwater is being extracted (often wasted) at a breathtaking rate, much faster than it can be replenished by rain. The supply is dwindling and it is simply not being preserved and nurtured as it should be for future generations – you know, for our kids and grandkids to use and enjoy.]
Members of the HTGCD Board elected in May,Meeting called to order, Treasurer's report and opening remarks
from left, Joan Jernigan, Mark Key and Jimmy Skipton
from left, Joan Jernigan, Mark Key and Jimmy Skipton
Treasurer Mark Key (District 3/Dripping Springs-east and south) reported $40,058.05 remaining in the current year's budget. The district has requested a $182,000 funding supplemental from Hays County. "I have no clue what we're going to get," he said. (County commissioners have agreed to extend to the district $100,000 plus a $25,000 public education grant.) Key gave a thumbs up to a "nice piece" district education proposal from Board member Joan Jernigan (District 5/Wimberley). Ms. Jernigan said she's working on a $40,000 education program proposal.
Staff geologist Wes Schumacher reported that is he updating the district's monitored well levels in the database.
Board president Skipton informed all present about the district's "missing files . . . if the press needs to see something, we don't have it . . . the files are missing," he said.
Skipton announced a preliminary public hearing on Oct. 28 on TCEQ's recommendation to combine Hays, Comal and Travis counties into one groundwater district. He said, "I want to have a resolution done that we would not like to join with them in this district; I want an action item on next meeting's agenda."
Skipton gave an update on the district's "folio" project – a massive 8-year long scientific research undertaking on the Trinity Aquifer in a three-county area that is being compiled into a printed and electronic file report and will soon be made available to the public. He said problems had arisen with the project's funding accounting. "If there's a problem with the bookkeeping, this office has had nothing to do with it," Skipton said. " . . . I'm not going to be the one holding the bag . . . I had assumed everything would go through the (district's) folio account but it hasn't." The district's budget included an initial investment in the project of $28,000. It was reported that well over $200,000 has been invested in the folio's production.
David Baker, Board vice president (District 4/Woodcreek/points north and south/west to the county line), arrived late to the meeting. He took his seat, and in his soft-spoken manner chastised two members of the board for digging into his personal tax records and spreading "blatantly false information" about his role as executive director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, the organization that oversees management of the Jacob's Well Natural Area.
"I think we're not working together in a cooperative way . . . I feel this Board has steered away from conservation" and is now more interested in "mining of the aquifer," Baker said. "I don't feel this board is doing what it's supposed to be doing; we need to be looking at science and not our ideas."
Baker again invited Board members Skipton, Key and Nesbitt to visit Jacob's Well for a first hand look at the conservation efforts underway to save the natural artesian well (and Cypress Creek) from drying up due to population growth and excessive pumping of the aquifer. (Go to this link http://www.cypresscreekproject.org/ for a report on the economic impact of Cypress Creek in the Wimberley area.)
Board member Key shot back, "We don't agree, David. I am furious, still furious" (that Baker is paid by the watershed association for his work on behalf of Jacob's Well) . . . "There is a clear and present conflict you being on this board . . . you are a paid agent of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association." (Key was nervously flipping a pen in his hand and he looked like he was ready to jump out of his skin.)
Baker to Key: "A conflict of interest is being a developer; we are conserving (Jacob's Well) and that's the purpose of this (district)."
Dr. Guy Hodgson permit - Long story short, Dr. Hodgson owns a well that serves agricultural use and six cottages on his property. The well was placed under a non-exempt (regulated/metered) status some time back and the doctor asked the Board to remove the restricted status and return (grandfather) it to exempt status. In 2009, the well pumped 866,170 gallons, over-pumping its alloted amount by 18,985 gallons. So far in 2010, the well has pumped 555,750 gallons. The well is permitted to use 2.6 acre-feet a year. "Good to see your faces on the Board," Dr. Hodgson told the new members of the Board. A long discussion ensued about the well's historical and current use. It was pointed out that "exempt" wells are defined as serving a single-family dwelling/property and this well is serving 6 residences. The board would be setting a troublesome precedent if it granted an exemption. Board member Jernigan suggested getting a written history of use of the well and "get an opinion from an attorney." Board president Skipton moved to table the item, get a legal opinion and in the meantime he would go out to the place for a personal inspection. The motion carried.
Cielo Azul Ranch permit (inside Jernigan's district) - A regulated, non-exempt well pumped 4.3 million gallons in 2009, over-pumping its permitted amount by 2.3 million gallons; has pumped 1.57 million gallons so far in 2010. A Mr. Garza (not present) has over-pumped by 214%. No one (reportedly not even Garza) was sure where all the water's going nor to whom (a trailer park maybe or maybe being stolen and sold somewhere). Jernigan said some of the water is serving "a mobile home park occupied by migrant workers - children served by local churches." Under current rules, Garza faces $15,000-plus in fines for noncompliance, exceeding the production limit. Board member Key argued a fine would be "ludricous" with little chance of it being paid. Member Greg Nesbitt (District 2/Dripping Springs-north) asked, "can we give the guy a window in which to fix this . . . start the clock today on the fine?" Jernigan said, "he (Garza) is not broke, the church says he has plenty of resources." Board member Baker said, "We have rules that this is a clear violation of; it's a procedural thing – if they are violating the rules you take legal action (then negotiate)." The Board voted 5-0 to set the clock on fines sometime in July and start an action against Mr. Garza.
HTGCD boundaries/about 360 sq. milesAqua Texas Line Loss
(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
Much more discussion ensued on several other agenda items, among them, a proposed "stand still" agreement with Aqua Texas, in which the district would hold off legal action against Aqua Texas to hold the for-profit water company serving Woodcreek and Woodcreek North accountable for tens of millions of gallons in annual "line loss" or "waste" as the district's Rule 9 defines it. The proposal was brought by Board member Baker. Baker said Aqua Texas has threatened to sue the district if it attempts to enforce its water waste rule.
The proposal, Baker said, would delay enforcement action and allow the parties to work out a solution on the water system's prolific leaking. "I think it's important we try to work it out with them and set a permit that's reasonable and not negatively impact Jacob's Well and not impact their ratepayers," he said. "The goal is to supply water and not dry up the spring." Baker said when Aqua's Well 23 is pumped it causes a noticeable drop in the flow at Jacob's Well. Cost to AT to repair its leaky system is estimated at $5 million, which can be passed on to customers.
Board president Skipton challenged Baker's proposed delay: "The stand still to me says another 6 months to figure this out. Let's go, let's fix it! . . . When they bought this system it was leaking, and it's leaking today, and they've got the money to fix it . . . I'd like to bring this to a head. If it takes $5 million, let's do it."
Baker withdrew his proposal.
Long term permits for public water companies
Managers from Wimberley Water Supply, Dripping Springs Water Supply and Aqua Texas were present in the audience for this item. General Manager of Wimberley Water and former mayor, Tom Haley, explained to the Board his water company could plan better for the future if it was granted a 5-year permit with annual increments in its pumping allowance to meet projected growth in customers. Water companies currently are required to bring their permits to the Board annually for review (revising permitted amounts up or down if need be). Haley asked the Board to approve a permit with allowable pumping increases of 3% and 5% through the next five-year period to accommodate anticipated growth. He pointed out Wimberley Water has an outstanding record of conservation and line loss reduction. "We are the most conservation, conservative (water supplier) around," he said. "So help us."
Former Board member Jack Hollon, said, from the audience, Wimberley Water's growth projections are high compared to statistics from recent years.
"I think a five year plan is good for our district," said Key. "It allows us to plan ahead." Mr. Skipton added, "I don't see how it hurts to give longer term permits."
There was some discussion about the water pumping limits the state is imposing on groundwater districts around the state (a program called Managed Available Groundwater/Texas Water Development Board). "I want to have the MAG in place before we agree to long term permits," said Baker. "I don't think this district should be turned over to the water companies," added Andrew Backus, from the audience, also a former member of the Board.
Board member Jernigan said, "I would like to see the water companies advocate rain water (collection) and redirecting water to the aquifers." Mr. Haley said his water company wholeheartedly supports rain water collection. Haley later told the Board Wimberley Water is "sitting on a bucket of water," meaning they currently have a terrific source and supply of groundwater from their wells.
The item was tabled for further analysis and discussion.
We're closing in on our permitted time limit, so we'll end for now and maybe come back with more observations on this wild and crazy meeting. We'll see you at the circus the next time.
Posted by RoundUp Editor at 3:15 PM
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Hudler's engagement provides a convenient example, given his billing of over $12,000 for a little over two months’ work (a period that included Christmas and New Year's), for representing just one PEC employee. Wahlberg's and Calfas's engagements (see attached “Summary”) are almost as good as examples of our managers' (and directors') lack of concern for cost
E-mail from Milton Hawkins to pec4u watchdogs, media and legislators
Editor's Note: We rarely get an inside look at how our power cooperative, the PEC, spends its money. PEC has a long history of shady management and financial dealings. The Bennie Fuelberg/Bud Burnett days are gone for sure, but vestiges of the old guard remain. Milton Hawkins, a retired English professor, who makes his home in Blanco County near Johns0n City (the headquarters of the PEC), has spent more than two years digging and reporting on the remarkable changes inside and outside the PEC – from the end of the good old boy days to the reforms in governance and management now taking shape. But even now, things are going down that are a cause for concern to ratepayers. In his latest dispatches, Mr. Hawkins raises serious questions about payments for legal services made by PEC in the time leading up to, and during, the criminal investigations that led to the indictments against two former top executives. One of the trials is set to start in November in Fredericksburg.
In prior reports, Hawkins has exposed millions in spending that has every appearance of pure wastefulness. We're all paying for it in our electric rates – a small fraction, but still. See his examples below the E. B. Price question.
Contact Milton any time at firstname.lastname@example.org for the document attachments he refers to, or any other questions you might have. He can cite chapter and verse of his information sources. (We are unable to upload PDF attachments.)
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By Milton Hawkins
On the document “Summary of Outside Legal Statements from January 2008 – January 2010 related to Criminal investigation and Grand Jury Proceedings,” which was released at the 16 August 2010 Board meeting, a Zachary P. Hudler is shown as having represented “One Employee” from “11-10-2008 to 1-21-2009” for the sum of $12,004.00.
On 15 January 2009, Luis Garcia, Interim General Counsel, wrote Johnson City attorney Hudler and conveyed the following message: Please note that Pedernales Electric Cooperative will no longer pay for any further legal services on this matter effective January 1, 2009. Please accept the enclosed payment as our final payment on this matter.
QUESTION: Why, after writing this message to Hudler, did Luis Garcia approve a payment for “Legal Services Rendered” by Hudler for the period 1 January 2009 to 21 January 2009 in the amount of $3,225?
I’m attaching five documents: (1) the “Summary,” (2) Garcia’s letter to Hudler, (3) a copy of Hudler’s statement showing Garcia’s having signed as “Approver,” (4) Hudler’s complete statement of 10 February 2009, showing services rendered from 2 January 2009 through 21 January 2009, and (5) Hudler’s statement showing charges for formulating strategies and travel to and from Austin.
Is this just another instance of the corporate culture (“Cost doesn’t matter”) at work?
Even without Garcia’s approval of this payment of $3,225, we would have spent almost $9,000 in furnishing representation for this one employee, who was subpoenaed to appear and apparently did appear before the grand jury.
Given the extensive redactions, it’s difficult to determine what Hudler’s “services” consisted of, but here are a few words from his billing that may give us a clue: “review and analyze,” “travel to and from Austin,” and “formulate strategies.” One wonders what strategies were formulated, for what purpose, to cope with what contingency or contingencies.
That was expensive travel, by the way: 4 hours @ $250/hour = $1,000, plus 100 miles @ 44 cents/mile = $44, for a total of $1,044.
Of course all this begs the larger question: Why was any of this expense necessary in the first place?
Why didn’t PEC’s general counsel issue through the office of the general manager instructions that any PEC employee called by the grand jury was expected to cooperate fully, to produce whatever documents and records were requested, and, when asked to testify, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
For employees who had nothing to hide, why wouldn’t that advice have been enough? Why did we need to pay tens of thousands of dollars so that attorneys could study and analyze and consult and strategize?
A Question Regarding the Representation of E.B. Price
As you may know, E.B. Price is a former PEC Board member, and for a time in 2008 he served as acting president of the Board. He is also the father of Bill Price, who is one of two individuals who figure prominently in the investigations leading to the indictments of Bennie Fuelberg and Walter Demond.
In the document “Summary of Outside Legal Statements from January 2008 – January 2010 related to Criminal investigation and Grand Jury Proceedings,” which was released at the 16 August 2010 Board meeting, the Minton, Burton, Foster & Collins law firm is listed as having represented “Ten Former Board Members” during the period “3-12-2009 to 6-17-2009” for a total payment of $17,540.82.
According to an e-mail message from Rebecca Haddock, legal assistant to Samuel Bassett, an attorney in the law firm of Minton, Burton, Foster & Collins, the following Board members were represented at the grand jury hearings: Vi Cloud, Barbara Shaffer, DL Ruff, Rusty Allen, Robert Reed, Ola Armstrong, Stuart Nunnally, OC Harmon, Val Smith, and RB Felps. That is a total of ten (10) represented by the Minton firm.
On the “Summary” listing, no other firm is shown as having represented Board members.
It is well attested that Mr. Price appeared before the grand jury, yet his name does not appear in Ms. Haddock’s list, which does include ten former directors.
QUESTION: Did PEC furnish representation for its former Board member and acting Board president E.B. Price? If it did, why is the firm providing the representation not listed on the document distributed at the 16 August Board meeting? If PEC did not furnish representation, was a request for representation made and denied? And if a request were made and denied, what was the basis for the denial?
I’m attaching three documents: (1) the “Summary,” (2) a copy of Rebecca Haddock’s e-mail message listing the ten former directors represented by the Minton firm’s attorneys, and (3) a listing of people appearing before the grand jury.
The infamous survey, the River Palace and expensive payment centers
Readers may remember the infamous survey conducted by Decision Analyst in which, in exchange for responding to some questions, 1,000 PEC owner-members were to receive $10 each. That survey was conducted (to quote from former general manager Juan Garza’s defense of it) as a part of PEC’s comprehensive website design. PEC agreed to have research conducted that would enable our web partner, Tocquigny, to group responses according to similar values and engagement with PEC. The research, called a segmentation study, is standard practice and part of a comprehensive initiative to help PEC better communicate with members and deliver improved services through the PEC website.
Those responding to the survey got a total of $10,000. I do not know how much was paid to Decision Analyst, but I do now know how much the services of our “web partner,” Tocquigny, are costing us. Tocquigny’s part in this “comprehensive initiative” involving our web site is costing us $735,325.
Now I’m no web design expert, nor have I commissioned a survey of users, but as one who has used the PEC web site extensively, I cannot believe that a comprehensive “segmentation study” and the expenditure of three quarters of a million dollars are required to improve the existing site.
I and I’m sure many others would have been happy to offer suggestions for free, and surely in an employee force of over 900 people, with some sixteen or so in communications and over thirty in IT, we could have made significant improvements on our own, and brought in technical experts as necessary on an hourly basis. Better navigation and the addition of content in more accessible form don’t require interminable briefings, PowerPoint presentations, and after-the-contract-has-been-let sales jobs.
Did anyone ever ask whether or not the web site could be improved for less? Or was the decision to launch this expensive project made without due consideration of the cost involved?
Here’s a second example. Readers may recall that PEC owns a very large building just north of the city limits of Johnson City. Formerly known as the River Palace, it is now the PEC Training Center. Mr. Fuelberg and the Board (actually we owners) paid $900,000 for this building back in 2004, and I suspect that over the years we have plowed another $900,000 or more into improvements. To say that this facility is underutilized would be an understatement of the first order.
Yet, very recently, in order to accommodate the people working on the LINKS project, we have leased two portable buildings for two years and positioned them on PEC property on the southern edge of the city. One is costing $33,600 a year, for a two-year projected total cost of $67,292; the other is costing $8,400 a year, with a projected contract total of $16,823. In addition, we have obtained cubicles for these buildings at a projected contract cost of $46,843. And we appear to have spent another $42,376 on “landscaping” for these buildings.
Why, when we have available space in a building we already own, one conveniently located, well equipped, with plenty of parking and landscaping in place, would we lease and equip portable buildings? Was any consideration given to the cost involved?
Here’s a third example. We have some seventeen fully staffed payment centers at a time when payments can be made automatically or made with a click or a call, not to mention a stamp. To keep each center in operation, we must pay rent or maintain an investment in property and improvements. In addition, we have the cost of utilities, insurance, taxes, maintenance, cleaning, equipment, service contracts, staffing, and travel, to mention only the most obvious.
To illustrate, the payment office in Blanco has an assessed value of $467,760, and the 2009 tax bill was $8,283.10. (We have filed an appeal regarding this assessment, but those are the current figures.) The office is open from 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, so the staffing cost is significant. We pay $600 a year just for cleaning. (I do not yet have figures for the other expenses.)
Now some will say that we need to maintain a local presence, that some people like to pay in person, and that we’re supporting the local community. Yes, but at what cost? That is the question, for this and every other payment center. Given the multiple ways to pay, and in this case the fact that Blanco is only a ten-minute drive from Johnson City, is keeping this payment center open a wise use of resources?
Posted by RoundUp Editor at 7:59 PM
Saturday, August 21, 2010
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Well, they say what goes around comes around, usually in double doses. A group called Citizens for Civility in Government has launched an online petition demanding an apology from Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley for his over-the-top public put-down of County Judge Liz Sumter during a recent commissioners court meeting. Scroll down to the story "Will Conley Gone Wild!" to see the videos.
Some people have expressed shock at Conley's juvenile outbursts and others have said, what the hey, it's about time somebody livens up those depressingly long meetings. We're just glad there wasn't a troop of Girl Scouts present that day to receive their Good Government Merit Badge.
[Let's recall what the big backdrop ISSUE is here (see more in the videos) – Conley wants to steam roll a proposal through county commissioners court for the county to TAKE OVER MAINTENANCE OF CITY ROADS (all cities) AT COUNTY TAXPAYERS EXPENSE. (Are you folks out in the countryside ready to pick up the tab?) Already Conley has had to back pedal on his "maiden" project – the paving (with expensive blacktop) of Flite Acres Rd., including a long section inside the Wimberley city limits. Seems the commissioner and his compadres in the county road department, in their headlong rush, forgot to do the basic required traffic count before the pouring of the asphalt part. As we understand things, both the Wimberley City Council and commissioners court must vote approval on whatever deal Conley strikes with the city. The city has already said it cannot afford its portion of the cost, around $56,000. The city also has said it does not feel Flite Acres Rd needs resurfacing at this time, they would rather put their money on higher priority roads.]
Here's the link to the petition:
Here's what the petition says:
We the undersigned residents of Hays County find your recent outburst against Judge Sumter in Commissioners Court to be rude, crude, and disgraceful to your public office. We are aware that you offered an apology, but it was not a sincere apology. It was a poor attempt to shift the blame.
Therefore, as citizens of Hays County we say: Will Conley, it is time for a sincere apology to County Judge Liz Sumter and the citizens of Hays County. APOLOGIZE or RESIGN.
Posted by RoundUp Editor at 3:35 PM
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Send your comments and news tips to email@example.com, to Charles O'Dell at firstname.lastname@example.org, to Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe email@example.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story
Looking at these pictures, ask yourself – what kind of county health department would allow a piece of property to become so overgrown with weeds, abandoned vehicles, trash scattered everywhere, cesspools (reportedly), home to all manner of vermin and you-name-it, that it poses a genuine health hazard to neighbors, including kids and teachers at a high school very close by?
Answer: The Hays County kind of health department.
The department and its function of enforcing county health and safety rules falls under a larger group called Development Services Division, Resource Protection, Transportation & Planning Department (512-393-2150). Looking at the name, you wouldn't know public "health" even has a role. It is all overseen by Jerry Borcherding. (Don't try to call him. He's usually too busy to talk to citizens about equal enforcement of the county's and state public health codes.)
Nick Ramus (statesman.com)Thursday morning, the RoundUp accompanied a handful of citizens on a field trip to get a close up look at this grim-looking spectacle. The field trip was led by HaysCAN president Charles O'Dell. The property is located at 2501 Old S. Bastrop Highway. The property's occupant is Nickolas Ramus. Ramus is a public figure of sorts. He ran as a Republican candidate for Pct. 1 county commissioner in 2008. He lost of course. The funny thing is that the Democratic incumbent now in her fourth term (14 years), Debbie Ingalsbe, hasn't returned the favor by asking Mr. Ramus to please clean up his place.
We are told Ramus holds some kind of power over the health department as well as Ms. Ingalsbe, her fellow Commissioners Barton and Conley, the DA's office – the whole county in fact. There's a long and very disturbing back story to all this, involving politics and a lot of subterfuge.
A press release sent out by HaysCAN prior to the field trip said this: "Despite having been convicted twice before of being a public nuisance, personnel from the Hays County Environmental Health Department carrying out inspections in response to numerous citizen complaints now find “no violations” even though the property is in worse condition than when Mr. Ramus was convicted as being a public nuisance."
We're thinking the real pubic nuisances are lurking about in high county positions. Whatever the case, they should do their jobs forthwith and get Ramus and his property up to code before someone gets sick or hurt.
(click on photos to enlarge)
The sign up front says Texas Heritage Kitchen. There was no discernible activity.
An abandoned truck with years-old expired inspection and registration.
Too many mosquitoes to count, caught on fly traps overnight.
Look closely and you can see a discarded tire.
Many others may be scattered under the brush and weeds. It was hard to see.
Neighbor Carolyn Logan has had to put up with this blight, and unresponsive county officials, for years.
A gorgeous, well kept farm right across the highway.
Posted by RoundUp Editor at 11:13 PM
. . . look at it as if you live on Las Flores and you have children, or even a beloved pet, that could get killed or severely hurt by reckless and irresponsible drivers
An open letter from Wimberleyite Rocky Boschert . . .
There is an e-mail circulating among us trying to get Wimberley residents out to Thursday night's (8-19) Wimberley City Council meeting regarding the pending closure of Las Flores as a through road from RR 12 to RR 2325. Here is one side of the debate as written in the e-mail:
"....(anonymous) is circulating petitions to present to council asking them to rethink the closing of Las Flores. She needs your support at this week's city council meeting, Thursday, August 19th at 6 PM. She will be stating her case for keeping the NEWLY PAVED (to the tune of thousands of dollars) LAS FLORES OPEN to ALL Wimberley residents, not just 11-12 families who city council has given possession of "their street."
You will be given a 3 minute window to speak your piece and let the council know how you feel about their decision to close this public street. Please get there early enough to sign up to speak. Let's pack city hall and use our 3 minutes to let them know we are not happy about their decision and want them to, "DO THE RIGHT THING FOR ALL OF WIMBERLEY, NOT JUST A FEW."
The e-mail goes on to point out that Johnny White was the ONLY city council member to not vote for the closure. To me, that says something right there: The ONLY member to not vote for the closure.
But more importantly, there are facts that most Wimberley residents (who will be so terribly inconvenienced by 5 minutes more of driving because they will be forced to drive through to 2325 on Buena Vista Drive) do not understand or know.
First of all, for many years now the "few" residents on Las Flores have been subjected to a dangerous and irresponsible flow of drivers often speeding up to 55 mph or more and not caring about these "few" residents safety and rights. Over those same many years the Las Flores residents have asked the City Council to put in speed bumps and the CC have always been denied their requests, apparently for legitimate "road design" reasons.
Second, and more importantly, one resident on Las Flores – who is forced to use a wheelchair – takes his dog for a walk on Las Flores and more than once had cowardly disturbed drivers pull in front of him, stopped, blocking his way – ominously harassing and challenging him while sitting hidden behind their tinted windows. This is the result of irresponsible people behind the driver's wheel. And it is clearly these flaky and irresponsible drivers who have caused this problem and debate and who the anti-closure folks should blame for the problem (not the Las Flores residents).
Moreover, the safety police are nowhere to be found when such incidents as the wheelchair harassment occur and the county does not have the manpower to position safety officers on Las Flores to stop the irresponsible, flaky adults and high school kids who drive through on Las Flores at high speeds – caring little about safety and rights of the Las Flores residents.
Personally, I totally support the current solution since nothing else has worked to alleviate the problem. Unfortunately, we cannot legislate responsible drivers. In the end, I would like to know this: Where was the mass concern from the opponents of the closure when the Las Flores residents tried to get a simple solution like speed bumps installed so all of us could still use Las Flores as a road through to 2325? The truth is some opponents of the current closure also organized against the more simple speed bump solution as well.
Now we again know what the true meaning of the cliché "penny wise and pound foolish" actually means?
The Wimberley City Council is exactly correct to do what they are doing, in spite of ONE member opposing the Las Flores closure. If you go to the CC meeting, look at it as if you live on Las Flores and you have children, or even a beloved pet, that could get killed or severely hurt by reckless and irresponsible drivers. I know also Wimberley Montessori School has no problem with the closure as the owner of the school will always support safety of community residents and families over a little driver inconvenience.
If you come to the CC meeting tonight, tell the closure opposition to spend their time educating themselves and other drivers about community responsibility. Don't punish the residents of Las Flores for community insensitivity.
Peace, love and hope.
Rocky Boschert Arrowhead Asset Management
Posted by RoundUp Editor at 12:15 PM
Sen. Fraser suggested that PEC may have become too large and might need to be broken up into several small cooperatives
TO: All PEC-area newspapers
MEDIA CONTACT: Anne Harvey, (830) 868-4933; Austin line, (512) 219-2602
The PEC Board of Directors invited State Senator Troy Fraser and State Representative Patrick Rose to speak at its monthly Board meeting on Monday Aug. 16 in Johnson City.
The elected officials said the Cooperative had made significant progress in the last two years, but were concerned about several issues, including PEC’s election process, Director compensation, the hiring of lobbyists and the termination of PEC’s former general manager.
Fraser (R) Horseshoe Bay
Fraser (R) Horseshoe Bay
“All of the problems we’ve talked about today are solvable,” said Sen. Fraser. “You have the power to make these changes. You were elected by the membership to make these changes.”
Some of the issues that the legislators focused on included:
– Single-member district voting.
– The Board of Directors’ level of compensation.
– The possibility that PEC is or was considering hiring a lobbyist for the upcoming legislative session.
– The manner and reasons for the termination of the former general manager’s contract.
In addition, Sen. Fraser suggested that PEC may have become too large and might need to be broken up into several small cooperatives.
Board President and District 6 Director Larry Landaker of Wimberley said the Board will consider revising PEC’s bylaws this year, and they will take up the issue of single-member district voting at that time. He also stated the Cooperative is not pursuing a lobbyist.
“We appreciate that Sen. Fraser and Rep. Rose came to today’s meeting, and we appreciate the opportunity to engage in a constructive and honest dialogue about the future of PEC,” Landaker said after the meeting. “This Board’s goal is to take an outstanding Cooperative and find ways to make it even better. To reach that goal, we must be open to all ideas. These legislators have an important and valuable perspective, and our members – many of whom are represented by Rep. Rose and Sen. Fraser – will benefit from today’s discussion.”
While the legislators were candid in their criticism of PEC, they also praised some of the positive developments that have taken place at the Cooperative. Rep. Rose led a round of applause for the employees, telling them, “You do all of the members a great service by your work.”
Sen. Fraser said, “The fact that we are sitting here having this discussion in an open meeting with the public and the press here speaks volumes about how far you’ve come over the past three years. The strides we’ve made are huge. We are making a tremendous amount of progress. The Co-op continues to be very well run, competitive and respected nationwide.”
Coming out of executive session, the Board unanimously voted to select the executive search firm of Mycoff, Fry & Prouse LLC to lead PEC’s search for a new general manager. Landaker said the firm estimated that the process would take six to seven months.
The Board also heard a report about the implementation of PEC’s debt collection plan. This plan includes identity validation, deposits and a credit worthiness check. The Directors approved a resolution authorizing the general manager to implement the credit checks as part of this plan.
During the public comment section of the meeting, members spoke about the Cooperative’s open records policy, fiscal restraint, single-member districts and PEC’s debt collection plan.
In other action on Monday, the Board:
–Adopted a legislative policy providing guidelines for the Cooperative to interact with state and federal legislatures.
– Approved charters for the Executive Search Committee and the Compensation Committee.
– Agreed to include executive management in the Cooperative’s compensation study.
– Learned that PEC had received a capital credit distribution check from Texas Electric Cooperatives in the amount of $1.4 million.
– Heard that the plan to close the Georgetown office is proceeding on schedule, and the office will be closed and vacated by the end of August.
– Unanimously approved a franchise agreement with the city of Junction.
– Heard a report that PEC continues to move forward with its Smart Grid pilot program, and the Cooperative is reviewing its renewable and conservation goals.
The next regular Board meeting will be held at 10 a.m. on Sept. 20 at PEC’s E. Babe Smith Headquarters Building in Johnson City.
Posted by RoundUp Editor at 7:48 AM
Monday, August 16, 2010
The crosscurrents are interesting . . . If the water table is pumped down by a mere 5-feet in the vicinity of Jacob's Well all but storm flow will stop from the spring, Blue Hole Park will become a mud wallow and Cypress Creek will become a dry wash through Wimberley
Update: The next meeting of the HTGCD Board is Thursday, Aug. 19, 6 p.m. at the Wimberley Community Center. Here's the link to the agenda (pdf) – click on the little blue arrow under the 19th on the calendar then click on Board Meeting/Hearing: http://haysgroundwater.com/community-outreach-calendar
Editor's Note: Andrew Backus served seven years on the five-member board of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. He lost his seat in the May election by a razor-thin two vote margin to Mark Key. The groundwater district's stated mission is to preserve and protect the Trinity Aquifer. The Trinity is the main source of water for about 35,000 residents in western Hays County, so it makes sense to want to conserve this resource now and for the future. We're not so sure a majority on the new board of the HTGCD are interested in the "preserve and conserve" part of the mission.
In his clear-eyed analysis below, Mr. Backus picks up on a big question circulating around since county commissioners last week voted more money for Wimberley's revered Jacob's Well: What good will more money do to save the artesian well and headwaters of Cypress Creek if a sister governmental body (the groundwater district) is working at total cross-purposes?
Maybe the time has come for the commissioners court to review the authority it has to call for an election "to affirm or reverse" decisions of the HTGCD board. The board's recent decision to allow for a drawdown of the aquifer by as much as 40 feet seems excessive, endangering not only Jacob's Well but potentially hundreds more private wells, creeks and streams in the region. These are major decisions, with big consequences, that the voters should have a chance to weigh in on. Precinct 3 is home to Jacob's Well. County Commissioner Will Conley might consider taking the lead on this question and taking it to the court. Meanwhile, the county certainly can do more to force wiser decision-making from the groundwater district board by attaching strict (conservation) conditions in its annual funding allotment to the district.
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By Andrew Backus
Last Tuesday, Aug. 10, County Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to pay $1.7 million to purchase a 50-acre parcel of land above Jacob’s Well (JW) spring from developers. This acquisition completes the purchase of a protective buffer around this community jewel and is in addition to a $3-million grant from a couple years ago that was also used for purchase of a protective buffer.
JW is a spring that is the source of Cypress Creek, which flows into the Blue Hole Park, flows through downtown Wimberley and is a tributary to the Blanco River. Although noble at face value, the actions are confusing even to aquifer conservation supporters like me who have been observing the policy signals from the new Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation Board.
Published data and reports indicate that JW flow has diminished with increased pumping from the groundwater basin that contributes water to JW. The simplest way to protect some level of spring flow will be through pumping limits. However, during the July Groundwater Management Area 9 meeting in Boerne the newly elected HTGCD Board President Jimmy Skipton followed the board's will and voted to adopt a policy to pump the water table down by 30-feet across the county.
If the water table is pumped down by a mere 5-feet in the vicinity of JW all but storm flow will stop from the spring, Blue Hole Park will become a mud wallow and Cypress Creek will become a dry wash through Wimberley. So does this mean that the County now intends to support more cautious pumping limits in order to protect their investment in the environmental services provided by Cypress Creek? Or, are politicians just trying to buy Wimberley and Woodcreek votes heading into election season from voters that the Commissioners assume don’t know about the non-aligned policies of the governmental agencies involved?
Here are some background details that seem relevant to this story:
– Spring flow is controlled by water levels in the aquifer. Water level in the aquifer is a function of the dynamic balance between aquifer recharge and discharge. Recharge in our portion of the Trinity Aquifer is primarily a function of rainfall while the primary discharge variable we can manage is pumping. Therefore, the only way to manage/protect remaining natural spring flow is to establish pumping limits, but the new majority of the HTGCD has shown no inclination to do this and at times has stated that they don’t want to limit folk’s groundwater production.
Jacob's Well – is it doomed to extinction?– It typically does not bode well for a spring if it has to compete for water with a water utility. JW has to compete with two water utilities, Aqua Texas Woodcreek and Wimberley Water Supply Company. Aqua Texas Woodcreek is an investor-owned utility that is primarily motivated by law to provide profits to its investors, not to protect spring flows. WWSC is a member owned utility but Mr. Haley, General Manager, has made public statements to the effect that if it comes down to water in the creek vs. water for his customers he is going to pump water for customers regardless of what the HTGCD policy is.
Does this seem like encouraging news for the County’s investment in JW?
– Under the HTGCD’s unique enabling legislation the District has an exceptionally broad list of agricultural wells that are exempt and a very high water production volume that qualifies for exemption as single family residential wells. An exempt well is one that the HTGCD may not limit production even if the board wanted to. Within the groundwater basin that contributes to JW there are a couple of vineyards and orchards that can use as much groundwater as they want for irrigation. Unless the new Board requests legislative changes for the exemptions to be narrowed to at least what is required under Chapt. 36 of the Texas Water Code, does this fact bode well for the County's investment in JW?
– During the HTGCD’s July meeting, the board voted 3 to 2 (Dripping Springs contingent vs. Wimberley Valley Contingent) to adopt the Desired Future Condition (DFC) policy that the majority of the GMA-9 GCDs wanted to adopt of up to 40-feet of aquifer drawdown which would allow more than a doubling of current pumping. Virtually all those who showed up to provide public comment expressed a desire for the board to adopt a more cautious policy based on a desire to protect spring flows.
The HTGCD Board majority expressed no desire to perform a takings analysis on their policy and no logic for the up to 40-feet of drawdown other than “we want to do whatever everyone else is doing.” Ultimately the majority of the GCDs voted for an average of 30-feet of drawdown across GMA-9 (Bandera County voted for 10-feet of drawdown). This will accommodate about a doubling of current pumping levels according to the Texas Water Development Board’s model.
This additional stress on the aquifer will greatly exacerbate water level fluctuations in wells during dry periods and reduce spring flow. The HTGCD’s majority's (Skipton, Key, Nesbitt) reasoning seemed to be, ‘what good is it to adopt less drawdown than our neighbor if the aquifer is interconnected and; why should HTGCD adopt a more restrictive policy than its neighbors because all the growth will just head for the area with least restrictions and land owners will have their land devalued?’
It does not seem to me that the County can expect the flow from JW to be protected without the cooperation of an HTGCD Board that believes pumping limits and management strategies protective of some amount of spring flow are appropriate. The signals from the HTGCD do not suggest this is the case. Therefore, the question remains – with the future not looking good for JW – why have Commissioners decided to buy land around what appears to be one more Texas spring doomed to extinction by pumping?
In my next commentary I will discuss why adopting the lowest common water level is one logical path resulting from the rule of capture and why that is not the best policy for the property owners and people residing within the Hays Trinity Groundwater District.
Posted by RoundUp Editor at 11:45 PM