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.

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Judge to rule on “party” status in September

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Decision by Judge on 5 hour End Op hearing due early September.

The Aquifer Protectors!  From L to R, Eric Allmon (attorney for Environmental Stewardship), Michele Gangnes (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Andy Meyer (Paige landowner), Darwyn Hanna (Bastrop landowner), Ernie Bogart (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Betz Brown (Lee County landowner), Don Grissom (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Steve Box (Executive Director Environmental Stewardship)

The Aquifer Protectors! From L to R, Eric Allmon (attorney for Environmental Stewardship), Michele Gangnes (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Andy Meyer (Paige landowner), Darwyn Hanna (Bastrop landowner), Ernie Bogart (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Betz Brown (Lee County landowner), Don Grissom (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Steve Box (Executive Director Environmental Stewardship)

In a preliminary hearing on Monday, August 12, 2013, Administrative Law Judge Michael O’Malley from the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), heard testimony and arguments from End Op (applicant), Environmental Stewardship and three landowners (petitioners), and counsel for the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District regarding the petitoners request for “party” status.  After 5 hours of testimony and cross-examination, Judge O’Malley advised that he will receive written responses by August 29th and will issue an order on his decision in early September.  A hearing on the merits of the contested case hearing will likely be held in February, 2014.  
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Coalition Claims Victory at Groundwater Meeting

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Mina Elementary 4th grade "Green Team" commented to Board

Mina Elementary 4th grade “Green Team” commented to Board

Bastrop, TX  – The people of Bastrop and Lee counties gained a MAJOR VICTORY at last night’s Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District hearings.  The Board of Directors listened … and they acted on our behalf. 

THANK YOU Lost Pines BOARD MEMBERS!
1)  LCRA’s request for 10,000 acre-feet/year was cut back 50% to 5,000 acre-feet/year except in years when the counties are in drought conditions.
2)  Forestar’s request for 45,000 acre-feet/year to export was cut back 75% to 12,000 acre-feet/year.
3)  Environmental Stewardship and a group of landowners were accepted for timely filing of their request for “party status” at the End Op contested case hearing to be held before the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
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Environmental Stewardship seeks “Party Status” in Contested Permit Hearings

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Bastrop, TX May 8, 2013.  Environmental Stewardship has requested “party status” in the contested case hearings requested by Aqua Water Supply Corporation concerning the groundwater permit application by Forestar (USA) Group seeking 45,000 acre-feet/year from the Simsboro Aquifer; End Op, LP seeking 56,000 acre-feet/year ; and the Lower Colorado River Authority seeking 10,000 acre-feet/year.   Continue reading

Coalition Asks that Desired Future Conditions be Protected in Permits

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PERMIT THIS NOT BANKRUPTCYThe Forestar, End Op, and LCRA applications will harm existing permitted wells, the environment, and are far in excess of the DFC and MAG (defined below).  We, a coalition of Environmental Stewardship, Neighbors for Neighbors, Lost Pines Sierra Club, and Groups United to Advocate Responsible Development “GUARD,” believe that, if permitted at all, individual permits should first be reduced to levels actually supported by the application and then all permits reduced overall as necessary to an aggregate level that, including existing permits, protects the Adopted Desired Future Conditions.  In summary, if permitted at all, Forestar and End Op qualify for less than 5% of the water they are seeking.  In addition, the District needs to factor in the impact of existing permits before issuing any new permits. This has not been done.  Continue reading

Draw-down Maps obtained by Environmental Stewardship

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PERMIT THIS NOT BANKRUPTCY

PRINT FLYER

What does “draw-down” resulting from groundwater pumping look like on a map?  As you may know, the Desired Future Conditions are established in terms of the draw-down, in feet, of aquifers in Bastrop and Lee counties and throughout the District.

Recently, Environmental Stewardship obtained visual images based on the Groundwater Availability Model (GAM) used by the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District to evaluate the impact of proposed pumping from current permit applications on the Simsboro Aquifer.  Draw-down, measured in feet, is indicated on the contour lines of the maps below.

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Board Sets Contested Hearing for Forestar, End Op and LCRA

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Hearingphoto-1_2Here are the results of the meetings held over the last two nights.  We had an overflow crowd at the Wednesday meeting which delayed the start of the hearing for about 20 minutes; we estimate 200-300 people showed up to comment.  Lines of people were able to que up for comments and the combined hearing and board meeting lasted until about 10:30 p.m.   The End Op Hearing on Thursday had very good citizen attendance – likely another 200-300 people – and lasted 3 1/2 hours.  During the Board deliberations after the hearing we learned that Aqua Water Supply Corporation is also contesting the End Op permit application.
 

Hearingphoto

The Board of Directors  has HEARD THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE.  Both Judges were at the Wednesday night meetings … THANK YOU JUDGES PAPE and FISCHER.
THE BEST VOICE OF THE PEOPLE … IS THE FACE AND TESTIMONY OF THE PEOPLE.

 

THANK YOU FOR SHOWING UP and COMMENTING!

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Lost Pines Changes Location and Time of End Op Hearing

There are several new developments we need to inform you about.  Please help us spread the word.
1)  There is a change in the DATE and LOCATION of the End Op hearing.
2)  The Manville hearing will be held along with the regular Lost Pines Board of Directors meeting as previously announced.
3)  Environmental Stewardship has provided a letter to the Board with its rationale in support of the Bastrop Commissioners Resolution.  
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ES Challenges Recommendations and Offers Sane Path Forward

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This is INSANE but there is a SANE PATH FORWARD.   Yes, it is insane that the Lost Pines GCD is on the verge of permitting five and a half times (5.6) more water from the Simsboro aquifer than is available, however,  Environmental Stewardship has provided a sane path forward …but it is up to you and your local elected officials to demand a sane path forward. 

BE REASONABLE!   BE CONSERVATIVE!
DO NOT PERMIT MORE WATER THAN IS AVAILABLE!
Demand that the Board deny these permits until they have
adequate legal findings to support an informed decision. 

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Will Lost Pines GCD Follow or Skirt the Law in their Permitting Process?

 As Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District moves back into groundwater permitting, Environmental Stewardship is once again concerned about the impact of groundwater pumping on the aquifers, surface waters, and water permit holders (both groundwater and surface water). Secondarily, we will watch with interest to see how Lost Pines handles the many well permits that were questionably issued prior to recognizing the legal responsibilities that lead to the LPGCD moratorium. It seems clear that the District will be walking a thin line as they assume the role of “regulator” while seeking to avoid a takings claim.

Environmental Stewardship requested and has obtained a legal opinion from the prestigious water law firm of Lowerre, Frederick, Perales, Allmon and Rockwell Attorneys at Law regarding the recommendations of General Manager Joe Cooper to grant the requested permits.  In summary, they found that “In processing these applications, Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District (LPGCD or District) has not complied with the requirements of Texas Water Code § 36.113(d). This provision of the Water Code requires that the District consider certain factors when granting a permit. As discussed below, the District has not considered these factors in a manner that would support issuance of the requested permits.”  “Since the District has not considered these impacts, the District has failed to consider a factor which the Legislature has required it to consider. Thus, any decision to issue the permits would be arbitrary and capricious.”  

Click here for the full text of the legal opinion.

“By statute, the District bears a duty to consider such impacts. If the GAM is not a good tool for this purpose, then the District bears a duty to find a tool that enables a meaningful consideration. If more detailed information would allow the GAM to be used, then the District bears a duty to develop this information, either through its own efforts or by requiring that an application include such information,”  opined Mr. Eric Allmon.

As of the March 20, 2013 hearing, the standards used by the Lost Pines General Manager for justifying recommendations to approve the permit applications have been a mere “papering over” of the responsibilities mandated in the following sections of the Texas Water Code.

Attached below are the recommendations of the General Manager on each of the four permit applications considered in the March 20 hearing.

Forestar (USA) Real Estate Group, Inc.

Lower Colorado River Authority

Heart of Texas Suppliers, LP

City of Bastrop

CONCERN 1:   Will the District comply with Section 36.113 of the Texas Water Code which links well water permits to impacts on surface waters and permits?

Sec. 36.113. PERMITS FOR WELLS; PERMIT AMENDMENTS (d) Before granting or denying a permit or permit amendment, the district shall consider whether: (2) the proposed use of water unreasonably affects existing groundwater and surface water resources or existing permit holders.

Lost Pines should find that it is their responsibility to take reasonable actions to determine whether or not the pumping requested by applicants will have an affect 1) on other aquifers and the artesian head pressure of aquifers, 2) on surface water resources as the artesian pressure and outflows to the surface are reduced, and 3) on existing permit holders.

The reasonable implementation of Section 36.113 requires that the District consider the impacts of a requested permit on existing groundwater permit holders as well as surface water rights (surface water permits), since the impact of pumping to be considered includes both groundwater and surface water.

CONCERN 2:    Will the District use provisions of Section 36.113 to issue more restrictive permits while it completes its tasks under Concern 1? 

Sec. 36.113 (e) The district may impose more restrictive permit conditions on new permit applications and permit amendment applications to increase use by historic users if the limitations: (3) are reasonably necessary to protect existing use.

Simply stated, the District can place restrictions on new permits that are not on existing permits in order to protect the existing groundwater pumping permits and surface water right permits. Likewise, these new restrictions can include provisions that minimize the drawdown of the water table and reduction in artesian pressure while the District improves its understanding of the impact of the pumping on groundwater and surface water resources:

Sec. 36.113 (f) Permits and permit amendments may be issued … that may be necessary to prevent waste and achieve water conservation, minimize as far as practicable the drawdown of the water table or the reduction of artesian pressure, lessen interference between wells, or control and prevent subsidence.

 

CONCERN 3:    Will the District consider whether or not the groundwater pumping permits issued before the moratorium are valid?

Sec. 36.124.  DISTRICT ACT OR PROCEEDING PRESUMED VALID. (a) A governmental act or proceeding of a district is conclusively presumed … valid … [WITH THE FOLLOWING EXCEPTION] (b) This section does not apply to: (1) an act or proceeding that was void at the time it occurred;

The fact that Lost Pines realized its responsibilities leading to the moratorium after granting a number of groundwater pumping permits raises the question of the validity of those permits. Since the actions of the District in granting those permits was not in compliance with the Texas Water Code at the time the permits were granted, are those permits invalid and should the District void the permits and reconsider these applications along with the new applications?

The Lost Pines Board of Directors and staff have challenging times ahead of them. Environmental Stewardship hopes that they will continue to be diligent in following the Texas water laws, as they did with the moratorium, by finding that they have a responsibility to determine the impact of groundwater permitting on surface waters and surface water rights before granting any new permits.