Hays County Grossly Misinformed on Water Facts

Judge Bert Cobb of Hays County, in his haste to “reserve water in the name of Hays County” [and the so-called “Hays Region”] has failed to do his homework regarding water facts.  He, along with Commissioner Ray Whisenant, have grossly misinformed the residents of Hays and surrounding counties.  I’d like to set the record straight on a few of their more draconian statements.

Numerous statements quoted in the recent Community Impact Newspaper article “Hays County looks to solve water problem” (November 21, 2013), are intended to lead readers to believe that the Hays County area is, and will be, running woefully short of water as population growth consumes the region, whereas Bastrop and Lee counties have a “large, large volume of water underground” that “is easily rechargeable” and “is but a small percentage of the available [exportable] water”.

So, let’s look at the facts behind these statements.First, yes, there is a large volume of groundwater in Bastrop and Lee counties (Lost Pines Region); but not that much different from the volume of groundwater in the Hays Region. Judge Cobb cites Texas Water Development Board data released over the past year that estimates the recoverable stored water in the Simsboro aquifer in Bastrop and Lee counties at about 11 million acre-feet.What Cobb failed to disclose is that the underground water resources of Hays’ neighboring Gonzales and Wilson counties are, when viewed on the same basis, 65.9 million acre-feet and 43.5 million acre-feet, respectively.Hays and the surrounding counties of Bexar, Caldwell, Comal, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Travis and Wilson (the Hays Region) have a combined estimated recoverable stored water volume in the range of 125 million acre-feet.Contrary to Whisenant’s statement, our estimated 11 million acre-feet in the Simsboro aquifer probably is clearly not “as significant a volume as there is in the state of Texas.”There are, in fact, similar as well asmore significant volumes in your counties.
As to the claim of “easily rechargeable”, it’s just not true. The Simsboro and related aquifers in our region recharge at a rate of 3-5% of annual rainfall (when we get rainfall). Estimates of the total recharge of the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer group, of which the Simsboro is a part, is about 30,000 acre-feet per year … not the almost 3 million acre-feet per year that equates to “about 25% of the entire Simsboro aquifer” as stated by Cobb.The combined recharge for all of Bastrop and Lee counties is about 50,000 acre-feet per year. In comparison, the recharge rate from rainfall in Hays County is about 104,000 acre-feet per year.Gonzales and Wilson counties get about 47,000 and 50,000 acre-feet per year respectively. The recharge amount for Hays Region is in the range of 357,000 acre-feet per year (on an historical rainfall basis).Our counties, in fact, have recharge rates below the recharge from rainfall in the Hays Region.

So what are the facts around this “11 million acre-feet of exportable water” in Bastrop and Lee counties, claimed by Judge Cobb?  The volume cited is a portion of the “total estimated recoverable storage” of the Simsboro aquifer.  The operative word here is “estimated“.   The assumption here is that 15% of the aquifer sand is composed of water, and that the technology exists to recoversome portion of this water at a cost and efficiency that makes it worthwhile. Unfortunately, this is likely a case of diminishing returns; the more recovered, the more expensive and less efficient the process.  The deeper the well, the more expensive is the drilling and operation of the well.  And, the higher percent of recovery desired, the more wells required.  None of these factors are considered in the estimate of “recoverable”.  No consideration is given for the potential effects of pumping such as:  water levels dropping below pumps, land surface subsidence, degradation of water quality, or changes to surface water-groundwater interaction, according to Shirley Wade or the Texas Water Development Board in her presentation to the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District on October 16, 2013.  The same is true of the estimated 125 million acre-feet of “recoverable storage” in the Hays Region.

Finally, there is the matter of drawdown of the aquifers in compliance with the adopted desired future conditions of the relevant groundwater management areas and groundwater conservation districts.  Very simply stated, the groundwater conservation districts in the Hays Region, in many cases have, elected much more conservative desired future conditions than those in the Lost Pines Region.  Drawdown levels for the aquifers (in feet) are in the range of 0-30 feet in ALL of the districts in the Hays Region, whereas the drawdowns accepted in the Lost Pines region are in the range of 7-345 feet, with an average of 145 feet in Bastrop County and 345 feet in Lee County with an average of 237 feet across both counties (See map).  This means that, even though the Hays Region hassimilar, and in some cases more significant,estimated recoverable storage as the Lost Pines Region, the Hays Region GCD’s have elected to be more conservative with their groundwater, protecting spring and surface water flows, and seek to solve their need for additional water by importing water from other regions … even if on a hostile basis.

Lost Pines, too, favored very conservative drawdowns in setting desired future conditions for its aquifers (50 feet to be specific).  However, under pressure from the Texas Water Development Board and aggressive pumping already permitted in neighboring groundwater districts in GMA-12, the District was forced to acquiesce and accept significantly increased drawdowns for our two counties.  It was clear to many of us that our rural counties were being targeted for water exports to more urban growth corridors.

Apparently, groundwater districts in the “receiving regions,” such as the Hays Region, were not similarly pressured to increase their acceptable drawdowns, but were allowed to take the more conservative approach and protect their rivers and spring flows.  Environmental Stewardship, from the beginning, advocated with the GMA-12 for protection of the Colorado and Brazos Rivers, springs, and other surface water resources of our region and statewide.

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Forestar’s Contract with Hays County

The driver behind litigation.

As reported earlier, Forestar has entered into a “water reservation” contract with Hays County Commissioners Court for 45,000 acre-feet of water per year, even though Forestar only has a permit for 12,000 acre-feet per year.  Hays County is paying Forestar $5 million over five years to reserve water Forestar does not have to sell, and Hays County is encouraging and funding what now becomes Forestar’s and Hays County’s hostile attempt to get the additional 33,000 acre-feet of water per year by SUING LOST PINES IN STATE DISTRICT COURT.   

Click here for a copy of the contract.

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