How does Texas manage groundwater?
Texas manages groundwater through Groundwater Conservation Districts, using a modified rule of capture. These districts, where they exist, manage groundwater use through well spacing requirements and production permits. A district's mandate is to protect and balance private groundwater rights with the conservation, preservation, protection, prevention of waste and recharging of groundwater. They can be funded through property taxes, permitting fees or usage fees.
Texas Water Law requires districts to work cooperatively and regionally to develop and adopt planning goals. The Texas Water Development Board requires all 98 districts in the state to develop and implement a plan for the effective management of their groundwater resources to meet those planning goals.
A few counties, however, have elected not to create a groundwater conservation district, with Williamson County being among them. Not only does this leave Williamson County residents vulnerable to full rule of capture, but it also means we do not have a seat at the table for regional planning.
A great resource for districts and the public is the Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts, formerly the Texas Groundwater Conservation Districts Association. For more information, visit http://tinyurl.com/ybxczeem or call 512-596-3101.
The TAGD was formed on May 12,1988, to provide groundwater conservation districts the opportunity to exchange ideas and develop or influence programs for the management, conservation, protection and development of groundwater.
Dirk Aaron, president of TAGD, also serves as general manager of Williamson County’s neighbor — the GCD Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District, formed in 1999 in Bell County.
The CUWCD has undertaken studies on the Hensell Layer of the Trinity Aquifer after outcries about groundwater draw downs (changes in water level relative to background condition) in southern Bell County and northern Williamson County. Other studies also looked at how pumping by mine operators will affect property owners’ wells.
Since 2006, water levels in the Middle Trinity Aquifer have declined by 200 feet or more toward the Sun City area in Williamson County. Near Florence, the water level declines are greater than 100 feet and more than 140 feet in much of the area.
The CUWCD determined there is a need for groundwater management in Williamson County and increased conservation by rural groundwater users in Bell County. Also needed are an expansion of rural public water supplies in southwest Bell County for its growth.
How do we plan regionally?
In 2005, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that required joint planning among districts that are in the same groundwater management area to establish desired future conditions of the aquifers within their respective areas, and that they submit these plans to the Texas Water Development Board. After approval of these plans by the board, they become the basis for the state water plan, which is updated every five years. The next plan is due in 2021.
According to the state water board, regional water plans are funded by the Legislature and must be based on conditions that each region would face under a recurrence of a historical drought. Williamson County is in the Brazos G Regional Water Planning Area that includes all or parts of 37 counties.
Regional and state water plans are developed to provide enough water at a reasonable cost to ensure public health, safety and welfare. These plans also are intended to further economic development while protecting the agricultural and natural resources of the entire state.
A Texas Water Development Board regional plan estimated that Williamson County will need more than 27,000 acre-feet of new water supplies per year by 2030.
How does this affect Williamson County? Williamson County's estimated population is over 600,000, with 11.60 percent growth just within the past year. Our county’s population is expected to reach almost two million by 2050.
This continued growth and unregulated use of groundwater, especially in rural areas of the county, should compel our Wilco legislative delegation to examine our growing water needs more closely and consider legislation to create our own groundwater conservation district.
I encourage you to contact your legislators and remind them that our most important natural resource — water — is becoming scarce in the county and throughout Texas because of population growth, heat waves and droughts.
To learn more or become involved, please visit texaslivingwaters.org or email at http://[email protected].