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Monday, August 16, 2010

County votes money to save Jacob's Well; HTGCD Board votes to drain it


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.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Mr. Backus at aback@austin.rr.com, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story


Guest Commentary


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?
(courtesy busbyproperties.com)

– 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.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jacob’s Well is in danger because of the biggest threat, us. As Pogo, the cartoon character said, “We have found the enemy and he are us". Regardless of what the paper tiger known as the HTGCD, or the County does or does not do, Jacob’s Well will dry up. People will continue to move to the area of the Well continue to plant St. Augustine grass and put in swimming pools and no POA or City has the resolve to place any restrictions on this wasteful behavior. It will only be a priority for the people when they turn on the tap and nothing but a rusty sludge oozes out.

The TCEQ allows Aqua-Texas to waste water from the aquifer to the tune of 800 million gallons per year and grant rate increases whenever they request it. The HTGCD has not been able to control the ATI waste, even when you were on the Board, Dr. Backus! You couldn’t do it then and now you blame your replacements for the same non-actions. Very bitter, sour grapes on your part.

Anonymous said...

“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.”

I think that sentence makes perfect sense and since you apparently don’t sir, I suspect that is why you are now on the outside looking in.

RoundUp Editor Bob Ochoa said...

Anonymous 1, we believe the waste to be closer to 80 million gallons, not 800 million. It is a huge waste of groundwater, in any event.

Anonymous said...

I will take one Andrew Backus to 20 of the yahoos that now control the HTGCD. I don't think there's much in what Backus says that can be refuted by the yahoos. Whether he's "in" or "out" makes no difference. It is the current board's choice now to conserve or to waste away resources that can not be replaced.

Anonymous said...

Backus' policies were operating to force more property owners to become customers of utilities like AquaTexas. Backus also sought legislation to prevent property owners from being able to have residential wells. Of course Backus wanted to exempt folks like himself that had an existing residential well...at least until he sold his property.

Andrew, you are an elitist hypocrite who lost because of your elitism and your wholesale trampling on property and constitutional rights. You don't want people to have residential wells. You tried implementing legislation to compel homeowners to have no choice but to rely upon water utilities. You then complain when water utilities are required to fulfill the demand. Let's face it. You are simply trying to prevent "newcomers" from living on their own property to suit the whims of your hypocritical elitist agenda.

Since the residents of your subdivision have an LCRA line running in front of your subdivision, why don't you utilize LCRA water? You seem to want to have all the options available for you personally while trying to ensure that options are non-existent for others. You then have the gall to complain when people exercise the only option you worked to ensure they would be limited to. Hypocrite.

The RoundUp normally archives material. However, RoundUp removed instead of archiving the campaign materials Backus published a week before the election. RoundUp published it and now hides it. Guess the RoundUp's agenda is clear.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #3, I'm sure you are including David Baker and Joan Jernigan in your list of yahoos? Much of what Backus says can be refuted. Backus lost, get over it. He has a single agenda. Backus followers have had unfettered control of the HTGCD for nearly a decade and things finally got to a point where homeowners said "no more".

When he couldn't succeed on the HTGCD board, Backus used district money on lobbyists to pursue his agenda legislatively. When that failed he ran against incumbent House representative Patrick Rose. When that failed he proposed mergers with districts that would dilute the votes of the residents here and give him the power he craved. That failed too. He ran on a Chapter 36 "Plus" agenda and then tried to crawfish out of that one week before the election. Backus lost when his agenda was exposed. Get over it.

Backus tried to force homeowners to be on those central water systems he is complaining about. You can also look at his involvement with promoting not only HTGCD rules but new county subdivision rules to do the same thing. Look again at the RoundUp picture of the kid jumping in Jacob's Well. What Backus seeks to eliminate from the picture is people (i.e., the kid).

Virtually all the people that spoke up at the July HTGCD meeting proposed 0 drawdown. Not only is that unobtainable, but one must realize that neighboring districts were proposing 150 ft drawdowns from the same aquifer. All this was going to accomplish is conferring a huge economic benefit on the neighboring districts to the detriment of Hays county residents (only those living within the HTGCD boundaries). Only one person pointed this out.

In some cases, the speakers were activists from outside of HTGCD. In other cases, they were constituents of the Wimberley contingent board members. Some were real drama queens - male and female alike - shouting or screaming and then storming out of the room. However, their views were not shared by everyone in attendance at the meeting and they certainly weren't representative of the district voters as a whole.

Peter Stern said...

While this is all good information presented by Ochoa and Backus, my ongoing concern with this blog and our county efforts is that citizens are not being told one thing.

What are our options for corrective measures? What can we citizens do to make some positive changes, with the Jacob's Well and water table status, as well as other urgent county issues.

Again, it's great to be informed about a problem but it would be better to also provide residents with options and action steps for improvement.

In addition, since in this case, the water business is not going away, how may we arrive at some middle ground so that the businesses can survive and profit as well as residents?

Anonymous said...

All of this talk about zero drawdown is a diversion and meaningless. The citizens in GMA10 have been encouraged to drill through the Edwards aquifer and into the Trinity Aquifer for their water. This is to save the water in the Edward’s for later days. The representative from GMA10 admitted this in the last HTGCD meeting by. He even admitted that the water in the part of the Trinity Aquifer which lies under GMA10 mostly migrates laterally from the GMA9 area, our area.

So, if we had set a zero drawdown in GMA9 we would be looking at a resultant drawdown due to the pumping in GMA10 and God knows where else. How absurd is that? This whole case for drawdown limits over a period of 50 years seems ludicrous in the first place. It would be open to speculation and would have to be measured with fuzzy math and junk science.

Jacob’s Well’s future depends on many factors not the least of which is the number of people in the immediate area. The County’s purchase will eliminate the proposed River Rock development just feet from the Well and protect that 50 or so acres from future development. I don’t think it is presumptuous to say the purchase will prevent or delay the drying up of the Well and the demise of Wimberley.

To stop the drilling and improve the “future condition”, imported surface water and mandated rainwater harvesting are the two things that will save us because people are going to keep comin’ here.

Anonymous said...

With respect to the Editor's comments, the voters did "weigh in on it" when they chose not to renew the 10 year (your claim) incumbent's fiefdom.

How about this point: "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"

Aside from denying Backus and the RoundUp a mud-slinging opportunity what would be accomplished otherwise? If a majority of the other GMA-9 GCDs picked 40 feet, the DFC policy is going to be 40 feet regardless of what HTGCD picks. While Backus would prefer a regime of denying water to people here, that water isn't going into a "bank" - it is simply makes more available for consumption by other GMA-9 districts and will not result in the DFC anyway.

Backus then claims:
"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?"

Rebuttal:
To the first point, are you arguing otherwise? To the second point - not quite. Economic value (not "growth") was simply being taken from residents of HTGCD and conferred on residents of other districts.


Backus comments:
"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 .."

Rebuttal:
It's rather hypocritical that Backus would complain about a lack of a takings analysis. During his reign, Backus claimed property owners only had a right to groundwater once captured so if he stopped you from capturing it at all it wouldn't be a taking. Backus' position is inconsistent with the current state of the law. Backus wants to re-open that argument locally to pursue his agenda of establishing that you have zero right to access any groundwater beneath your property. By this mechanism, Backus seeks to avoid compensation for takings when you are denied access.

Anonymous said...

Backus states:
"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"

Aside from denying Backus and the RoundUp a mud-slinging opportunity what would be accomplished otherwise? If a majority of the other GMA-9 GCDs picked 40 feet, the DFC policy is going to be 40 feet regardless of what HTGCD picks. While Backus prefers a regime of denying water to people here, that water isn't going into a "bank" where you have sole withdrawal authority. The policy simply makes more available for consumption by other GMA-9 districts.

Backus then claims:
"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?"

Rebuttal:
To the first point, are you arguing otherwise? To the second point - not quite. Economic value (not "growth") was simply being taken from residents of HTGCD and conferred on residents of other districts.


Backus comments:
"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 .."

Rebuttal:
It's rather hypocritical that Backus would complain about a lack of a takings analysis. During his reign, Backus claimed property owners only had a right to groundwater once captured so if he stopped you from capturing it at all it wouldn't be a taking. Backus' position is inconsistent with the current state of the law. Backus wants to re-open that argument locally to pursue his agenda of establishing that you have zero right to access any groundwater beneath your property. By this mechanism, Backus seeks to avoid compensation for takings when you are denied access.

Anonymous said...

Editor said:
"These are major decisions, with big consequences, that the voters should have a chance to weigh in on"

Rebuttal:
By "voters" - if you mean the HTGCD Board members, they did vote. Didn't you promote the concept of an all-powerful HTGCD board?

If you mean the residents of HTGCD, they "weighed in on it" when they chose not to renew the 10 year (your claim) incumbent's fiefdom.


Editor said:
"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"

Rebuttal:
It's interesting that when Backus was in office, Backus sought to remove every restriction on HTGCD's authority including county veto authority. So you only have this opportunity because Backus failed in his attempts to remove it from you.

Backus sought to disenfranchise the voters first through the creation of the HTGCD itself, next with legislation to empower him with authority the voters did not give him the first time, and when that didn't work - he tried to water down the voter's votes here by merging with other districts without the consent of the resident voters of HTGCD.

When the RoundUp's water boy's tenure was revoked by the voters, RoundUp wants county veto authority. There is no result short of giving Backus personal control that is going to keep Backus or RoundUp from whining about anything HTGCD does. Too bad. Backus was a poor steward for our property rights. Backus only had the support of less than one half of the small fraction of voters that showed up to begin with. Residents of HTGCD have no obligation to please Backus or to yield constitutional rights under his statist demagoguery.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Dear Mr. Ochoa, What you are suggesting is that the election be overturned since you did not like the outcome. Are you being advised by Catfish Pigg? The present Board members were elected by the people in a fair election. You and Dr. Backus have to just get used to the fact that the people elect the individuals they want to govern. They obviously rejected Backus and one of his hand picked members for various reasons, one of which is being put forth here.

Anonymous said...

The commenters above are showing the same developer-driven arrogance that is getting Will Conley and Jeff Barton into trouble with citizens and voters who increasingly are seeing the bigger picture in what is going on. As for the commissioners court's authority to call for an election, I think that's a great idea. I would go further than that and suggest circulating a petition to recall and remove Mark Key, Greg Nesbitt and Jimmy Skipton from the board.

Charles O'Dell said...

If you mean the residents of HTGCD, they "weighed in on it" when they chose not to renew the 10 year (your claim) incumbent's fiefdom."

In plain terms...voters in the subdivisions (virtually all of whom are on LCRA water, not groundwater) were misinformed by HCGCD candidates (read lied to) when the District was accused of costing residents huge legal costs for the contested case hearing at TCEQ opposing a direct discharge permit amendment for wastewater into Bear Creek.

This is absolutely false and no one can substantiate a "utilities surcharge" as was claimed in the election. Subdivision voters were hoodwinked by candidate Key and others.

The Belterra developer tried to change his agreement with the City of Dripping Springs and with the downstream property owners when he decided to free up drip irrigation acreage for more dense development by obtaining the first Hill Country direct discharge permit despite recommendations to the contrary by the Administrative Judge.

Lying to voters is shameful. Falling for those lies is irresponsible.

The BS being propagated by some posters is equally outrageous. Will readers fall for their lies too?

Anonymous said...

O'Dell,

As one voter I never heard anything about the surcharges or the other things you claim. However, there is no question that Backus ran up lobbying and other fees trying to get legislation to turn the HTGCD into an authoritarian regime with himself at the helm. There's also no question that he was adamant about "chapter 36" Plus powers including metering, ad valorem taxation, elimination of residential wells, transfer fees, etc. It's silly to keep arguing about it or denying it and that was justification enough. The guy was on the board for many years - it's not his personal property.

However, if you haven't heard, TCEQ is working to effectively take away HTGCD. Stated differently, TCEQ is working to take the control that HTGCD and several other neighboring GCDs have and transfer that control to a different authority not subject to local control (i.e., resident disenfranchisement).

Thank goodness our board members voted for what they did before these more recent developments. You see, TCEQ intends to eliminate several of the GCDs to form a larger entity covering Caldwell, Hays, Blanco, and Travis counties. Your petty bickering over election non-issues will be moot. There won't be elections! The positions of authority will be by appointment. You will be at the mercy of appointees that you cannot elect or impeach. Problem solved!

Charles O'Dell said...

"Problem solved!"

For developer interests and those who have no sense of fairness or community interest the problem of restraints has been solved with the new board majority.

However, new home buyers should beware if they expect to depend on a well for water. Dry wells are becoming the norm, not the exception and its only going to get worse. And say goodby to Jocob's Well. It on the path of other Texas springs and its demise won't be reversed. Too late for that.

Anonymous said...

O’Dell said ----> “And say goodby [sic] to Jocob's [sic] Well. It on the path of other Texas springs and its demise won't be reversed. Too late for that.”

This is one of those few times that I agree with O’Dell. Jacob’s Well will slowly fade into history as most others have. Aside from the emotions and drama, it is really little more than a tourist Mecca and Wimberley better get to work on an alternate magnet for tourists. The Well is a totally different subject than the real issue of aquifer water conservation; no humans drink from the Well these days. The well can be dry as a bone and we can still have a sustainable aquifer if the legislature will have the onions to pass laws regulating new development in areas of endangered water sources.

If the people won’t get smart and regulate the water use then I expect the Government do their job. We could get a lot done if we would roll up our sleeves and stop choosing up sides and spitting on each other. The “all or nothing” attitudes from both sides are preventing any progress in planning for the future of our area.

Charles O'Dell said...

“Aside from the emotions and drama, it is really little more than a tourist Mecca and Wimberley better get to work on an alternate magnet for tourists.”

If you don’t understand the emotional importance of a special natural place to the community, the geological importance of the Well for measuring the Aquifer’s condition, and the value of water to the area’s economic well-being, then pray tell what do you consider to be of value in your life?

I suppose you could care less if Barton Springs dried up. Austin could "work on an alternate magnet for tourists." Right?

Anonymous said...

Wake up, folks.

What is happening is preparations for a raid on our ground water. The developers are getting ready to put in big straws to suck out as much as they can so that their subdivisions can profit from being so close to Austin.

This is the story of the West all over again. Without water, you can't live here. With too much ground water withdrawal, the creeks and river dry up and become drainage ditches.

If you don't realize what's happening, all that you value will be taken away from you. And you believe them when they say, "You can't do anything about it."

Vote these yahoos out of office, every one of them. Rose, Wentworth, Conley, Barton, Key, Skipton, Nesbitt. They're part of the problem.