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.
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.