Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wimberley View prints major faux pas

All told, the county and the county's taxpayers have generously contributed between $4 million and $5 million over the past three years to preserve Jacob's Well

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Illustration courtesy of an alert reader
A front page story in the Wednesday Aug. 11 edition of the Wimberley View would have you believe that Jacob's Well, the iconic artesian well that is the headwaters of Cypress Creek, is "the source of the community's drinking water." [County, WVWA Team Up to Preserve Jacob's Well] That would be laughable if it wasn't such an egregious misstatement of fact. But no surprise there, not for the View.

Anyone who knows anything about Wimberley knows that most all of the area's public drinking water comes from deep groundwater wells owned and operated by the Wimberley Water Supply Corporation and Aqua Texas. The protected Jacob's Well, as far as we know, does not serve as a direct source of drinking water for anything except birds and other wildlife.

The story also states in its lead paragraph that the $1.7 million grant to the Jacob's Well Natural Area (approved Tuesday by county commissioners in a 4 to 1 vote) will pay for 50 adjacent acres to "convert into a county-owned park." That misleads the reader. The new acquisition will not become a "park" in the normal sense, but a protected area with "controlled public access."

We often wonder where the View's management priorities are when such poorly edited articles are allowed to make it to final print – and on the front page no less. Not exactly the editor's fault. There's hardly anyone left at the paper with any broad knowledge or institutional memory about the area's history, culture, politics and natural resources. The place has been overtaken by people posing as newspaper experts (bookkeepers and such), so we can continue to expect a second rate product. Too bad, so sad.

The article aside, we have our own questions about the effectiveness of the county's grant in keeping Jacob's Well healthy and flowing. The real problem seems to be nearby drilled wells owned by AT (and many other surrounding so-called exempt private wells) that keep diverting underground water from Jacob's Well, all which pose a much larger threat during times of drought. All told, the county and the county's taxpayers have generously contributed between $4 million and $5 million over the past three years to preserve Jacob's Well. That's a lot of taxpayer payola for one protected natural area, but we imagine it will be worthwhile if it will lead to keeping the spring water flowing. Jacob's Well truly represents one of the region's last gasp efforts to save a major natural and historical water feature from extinction. The multi-million dollar question is, will it work?

Note: Here's a link to an interesting account of Jacob's Well told a few years back by Dan Misiaszek, a then- member of the San Marcos Area Recovery Team . . .
Google 'jacob's well wimberley' for more information .


Anonymous said...

You Go Bob!!!

Richard said...

I caught the same error and was astonished that even the clueless local fish wrap would make such a basic error. I wouldn’t expect them to print anything quite this stupid. The “writer” should be fired.

As far as Aqua Texas (ATI) pumping the well dry, it is going to get worse. The WPOA’s Website, for reasons I can’t explain, is featuring a PR piece from ATI’s PR firm, “KGB Texas” bragging;

New Wells
Woodcreek I and II each have two wells. Aqua Texas built a new well in Woodcreek North, Well 23, which is scheduled to go on line in 2011. Well 23 will replace the current failing well, Well 21. The new well includes a booster pump station, which will fill the elevated storage tank with water.”

Well 23 is located on the east side of Crazy Cross Road adjacent to its intersection with Long Bow Lane. I have been told that when the well was tested it was determined that Jacob’s well would stop flowing when the pump ran. It is very near the underground cave. This has been a concern of the WVWA ever since, and I’m not sure that they are looking into the well coming online next year. I hope someone has a plan to mitigate the effect of Well 23.

Anonymous said...

These are ridiculous errors that even someone who doesn't live in Wimberley (like me) could easily notice.

But I don't want that to take away from the good decision the Commissioners Court made to help protect Jacob's Well. Nice job Commissioners!

Charles O'Dell said...

Jacob’s Well is on the path to extinction just like most of the other dry springs of Texas---and it’s already an expensive path for Hays County taxpayers. It’s a matter of time until Jacob’s Well only flows intermittently when there is substantial rain because the County won’t address the underlying threat to this well and to other wells---excessive development.

Conley has engineered yet another back room deal at the expense of Hays County taxpayers. Here’s how we believe it happened.

The Wimberley Valley Watershed Association (WVWA) owns 46 acres immediately surrounding Jacob’s Well. Developers, Westridge Partners J.V. own 50 acres north and adjacent to the WVWA 46 acres and had sued WVWA to gain an access easement to Jacob’s Well and to build a road across the WVWA 46 acres.

The night before the trial was to commence in district court, Westridge Partners called WVWA board members and offered to settle their suit if WVWA was willing to purchase their 50 acres for $1.7 million.

We believe Conley helped the developers plan the sale by offering to use county parks and open space bond money. All the negotiations were conducted behind closed doors. Commitments were made and actions taken before commissioners’ court gave any approval and before any public discussion or input. Even now, not all elements of the secret deal have been revealed to the public and commissioners’ court is saddling taxpayers with unspecified but significant future costs.

Shades of Conley's Wimberley First Baptist Church deal.

HaysCAN will file suit in district court documenting serious Open Meeting violations.

IC_deLight said...

I wonder where the money has really been going.
Also, who will end up being the recipient of the funds if the county purchases Jacobs Well as they have been discussing.

As to earlier comments regarding AquaTex, what do you folks expect when you try forcing people to use these investor owned utilities. The utilities become efficient at pumping water out of the ground (not necessarily delivering it, though). As for other AquaTex woes, talk to people in Sierra West who are out of water at this time. From water trucks seen on FM 150, they are trucking water from Dripping Springs WSC to the Sierra West subdivision.

Anonymous said...

well it doesn't serve as drinking water today...
Wasn't David Baker trying to start up a business to sell bottled water from Jacob's Well?

Does anyone have an accounting of where the money that has been paid to Wimberley Valley Watershed Authority or that the county plans to pay to WVWA has or would go? I think an audit is in order before the county disburses another dime of taxpayer money to this private organization.

IC_deLight said...

What does "controlled public access" mean? Only officers and directors of WVWA are permitted to have personal parties there?

The "public" has already coughed up millions of dollars to this private little group. If the "public" is coughing up even more millions of tax dollars to acquire this land, I'd like to know what discriminatory admission policy the county expects to implement. Certainly, the property should no longer be the private party grounds for WVWA.

Anonymous said...

Hint: Go back to the previous Court when they approved multi-million dollars for the first purchase at Jacobs Well. Another contributer to this blog made mention some months ago about the use of public funds being given to private entities. WWVA is a private entity, and if true that state law prohibits the giving of public funds to private organizations, then the previous court did wrong, and now the current court is getting ready to compound the illegalities. Difference? None - one group was Republicans, and now predominantly Democrats. Special interests are special interests. Who gets access to the land now owned by David Baker, et al? FoDB (Friends of David Baker - ala extreme environmentalists, who aren't necessarily good at math and the effect that saddling the taxpayers of this county with debt for a private organization's gain.)

Go Charles!

Anonymous said...

All of us will be saddled with higher taxes from the $30 million parks bond with little or no recreational returns for the public. The commissioners court has made a giant clusterf**k out of this thing from the start. Thanks to golden boy Conley, all of Wimberley's allotment has gone to a dead or dying spring. At least he managed to silence a small clique of environmentalists. Wonder if the 1.7 mil gift went through the park committee. Or is this another one of his no deposit no return deals.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, the $1.7 million or $800k came from Kyle giving back park funds they were given and couldn’t use for parks over there. I keep hearing things like a "dead or dying spring" or "on the path to extinction" in reference to Jacob’s Well; do not forget that the well is the main source for Cypress Creek and the lifeblood of Blue Hole and Wimberley’s tax base. We need to do whatever we can to save the well. I fail to see how the County purchasing land is in anyway a gift to anyone. Remember part of this was to end a lawsuit by the developers of “River Rock” that would have adversely impacted both the City of Wood Creek, the Well and the WVWA.

Peter Stern said...

My concern is that "truth be told" is one thing, but instead of the usual finger-pointing and "bad-mouthing" I would like to hear some resolutions for this and other urgent and volatile issues.

It would be nice to drop the hostility between residents and those in charge and attempt to work together towards a middle ground.

Or am I really just delusional?

By the way, Bob, I liked the photo of you. Sorry you removed it. LOL

Angry Taxpayer said...

"The multi-million dollar question is, will it work?"

From the Roundup statement above, the "multi-million dollar question" should be "show the taxpayers where the money went." After looking at the WVWA website, it appears that this David Baker is the executive director of the WVWA. From the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District website, this appears to be the same David Baker that holds one of the HTGCD board positions. I would hope that he isn't utilizing his HTGCD position the same way he's utilizing his WVWA position.

If poster O'Dell is filing an open records lawsuits against the county, I look forward to finding out what was discussed with WVWA behind closed doors. I'm also not impressed with the elitist position that after spending $4-5 million the last several years and considering several more million for a purchase - this taxpayer paid-for property would only be accessible to insiders with WVWA or others deemed worthy of "controlled access". Charles' lawsuit isn't going to be the only lawsuit if this matter isn't clarified soon.

Anonymous said...

This is truly great. A bunch of tree huggers get into bed with the car wash king. $1.7 million gets paid to some developers who probably didn't pay more than half a million. Now what they do with the profit is their business, unless of course they kick some of it back to the car wash king. Sounds like the Baptist Church deal all over again. Thank you David (Baker). Thank you Jack. You did a wonderful job in bilking the tax payers.

Charles O'Dell said...

Anonymous writes: “Remember part of this was to end a lawsuit by the developers of “River Rock” that would have adversely impacted both (sic) the City of Wood Creek, the Well and the WVWA.”

On what basis do you imply the developers would have won their suit? Why do you suppose they offered to settle the night before the trial by selling at a premium price 50 acres next to a dying Well to which they were suing to gain access?

Conley and Barton each seized, if not created, an opportunity to meet their political needs by circumventing the very review process they voted to create.

Pct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton joined in the stampede to grab off portions of the $30 million Parks and Open Space money to do what all commissioners have done---make voters feel good about their commissioner spending public money in their precinct.

Who benefits from this spending of public money (debt repaid with interest from tax revenues), and why was the court created process for setting priorities ignored are two questions with which thoughtful citizens should be concerned.

What went wrong with Barton’s sponsored project that the City of Kyle is now returning bond money because the City won’t meet the terms of the grant to which it agreed when the grant was made? Answer, the City dropped its park plans for East side citizens.

Now Barton has made a deal with Conley to direct those funds forfeited by the City of Kyle to pay developers a premium price ($34,000/ac) for 50 acres they can’t develop in this market environment. Conley claims in an official document the 50 acres appraised at more than $1.7 million, but he won’t show us the appraisal report.

The Citizens Parks and Open Space Committee appointed by commissioners’ court to review and apply the court approved criteria for bond project proposals is upset that Barton and Conley have gone around them again to play more politics and benefit another special interest group at the public expense.

Estimates of $200,000 - $300,000 annually will be required in public cost just to administer this project, and who will visit it when the Well is not flowing?

This whole back room dealing stinks!

Anonymous said...

I've heard there are still more than 100 easements to the well. That's more than 100 property owners with access to the well. Am I really supposed to believe this is going to be some kind of nature preserve? I just want to know if the Wimberley Valley Watershed Board was complicit in this deal.

Anonymous said...

For what its worth, The entire WVWA Board was present including ther lawyer at the July 29th meeting. They were all advocating the deal.

Anonymous said...

If you're talking about the meeting at the Community Center, you are incorrect. I know of two board members who were not there.

On the other hand, maybe you're talking about some other meeting. I know, for example, that there was an executive session that involved the county commissioners and some board members. My guess is that is the very sort of thing that O'Dell will focus on in his lawsuit. I absolutely love this. Tree huggers could care less about open government, at least in this instance.

Anonymous said...

The sad fact of the View’s story is that so many people in the County probably believed it. Jacob’s Well is often portrayed as something it is not. I went down there yesterday and there were about twenty or thirty people swimming, drinking and playing boom boxes. Some trash was seen floating down stream and around the area. The well is really unremarkable except that some water is slowly coming out of the ground, nothing more, and nothing less. It is really smaller than I expected and if it weren’t flowing it would be a cesspool with all the people and their dogs in it. Maybe with more funds the WVWA could hire security guards to police the area better.

The value of the well is to the occasional spelunker and as a level indicator for only the upper part of the Trinity Aquifer. Of course the Wimberley Square would perish without the continued flow of the spring. The fact is that the predicted draw down of the aquifer will surely reduce the flow to a trickle or eliminate it. Nobody is going to be able to stop it. More land will be developed and more people will come here and Wimberley will have to adapt or die. Expensive surface water from down south is not going to save it. So how valuable is the well?

Anonymous said...

In re Anonymous' comment: "For what its worth, The entire WVWA Board was present including ther lawyer at the July 29th meeting. They were all advocating the deal."

Well of course the attorney they hired (apparently at taxpayer expense) would advocate for the board's position. More importantly, however, who is the attorney for the WVWA?

Anonymous said...

The attorney is a board member. I think the Watershed association pays him, but he is a board member.

louielouie said...

Hmm, I could have sworn that Mr. Ochoa's 18 years of newspaper experience were spent at the Wimberley View.

I've researched and written about Jacob's Well for decades. Discouraging to see from these comments how little respect Wimberley citizens have for a natural wonder that greeted the earliest explorers to this area.

Nearly dried up. Certainly. So we should all just give up on Cypress Creek? I imagine there are quite a few folks out there who would lose not only the investment they've made into their property or business, but a quality of life that draws so many of us to this lovely little town.

David Baker has sacrificed decades of his life to the cause of preserving this significant spring. He has endured many of these false accusations, but keeps on fighting to save this resource for all of us. Not a villain at all. David Baker is a hero.