Why the county needs a groundwater conservation district

Column by Commissioner Terry Cook

This is one of many springs feeding into Brushy Creek discovered by contractors while building the .933-mile stretch of the Brushy Creek Trail that traverses the pedestrian bridge in Round Rock north of Round Rock Avenue.

Williamson Commissioner Cook: Why county needs a groundwater conservation district (statesman.com)

On March 9, the Aquifer Conservation Alliance of Williamson County announced it had withdrawn its petition for annexation by the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District of Bell County.

The combination of wells going dry from the pressures of development and industries, the absence of any type of drawdown monitoring or conservation practices for the Trinity Aquifer and the drought have all combined to negatively impact wells in Williamson County. Many residents are facing tremendous costs for drilling deeper and deeper wells.

By 2021, 1,775 wells were registered in western Williamson County. Most of those wells serve homeowners, but also municipalities and ranchers. For rural local industries, aggregate mines and batch concrete plants are the primary users of wells. It’s the "Rule of Capture” in Texas, and “he who gets to the water,” that allow unlimited well water draw outside of the protective monitoring by a groundwater conservation district.

Across Texas, approximately 99% of the rural population gets their fresh water from groundwater via wells. Groundwater accounts for 30.8% of the freshwater on this planet, whereby surface water such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs account for only 0.3%. Our creeks and rivers are largely the result of groundwater surfacing along their water basins. It was surprising to find the number of springs and weeps our construction contractors, Chasco, encountered when building the .933-mile stretch of the Brushy Creek Trail that traverses the pedestrian bridge in Round Rock just north of Round Rock Avenue. Without groundwater, those streams would cease to exist. Then where would our municipal wastewater treatment plants send their output? How would life in nature be sustained?

Rural landowners do not benefit from the ordinance and land use planning of municipalities. The Legislature has not granted county government those tools to manage growth – it’s really the wild, wild West. If you’ve got money, that land is yours. 

So, neighborhoods in the unincorporated areas of Texas have seen concrete batch plants move next door with 400 heavy trucks per day driving by their homes and destroying their narrow, low-load county roads. The same is true for the number of active aggregate mines, of which Williamson County leads Texas. Besides that, there’s no limit as to how much free water is pulled from the aquifer for these businesses. Don’t even think about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as help; it is a permitting agency, not an environmental protection organization.

Thursday, March 16, 2023/Author: Doris Sanchez/Number of views (292)/Comments (0)/
Categories: Hot Topics

One heck of an ice storm

Column by Commissioner Cook

Ice from storm Mara split a large tree in front of Jan Pelosi's house in Williamson County Precinct 1.

Jack Frost doubled down on Central Texas this month — not with extreme cold, nor extreme rainfall, but with temperatures primarily 30 to 32 degrees and every drop of moisture freezing. This layered on our already stressed woody plants from Mother Nature’s onslaught over these past two years and brought them to their breaking point. Long-timers in this area were in total agreement of never having experienced such widespread destruction.

Texas, long used to hurricanes and tornados, experienced broad assault from this cold front, Winter Storm Mara, with up to 1.5” of ice on roads. Trees tumbling and being stripped of large branches downed power poles and lines, and blocked roads. Darkness ensued. Life was jolted back for many to 1880, although those hardy settlers were better prepared for those conditions. 

Although several customers were still struggling Feb. 10 in those no-power areas where extensive repairs were needed, Austin Energy finally restored power to all remaining customers Saturday, minus those who needed electrical home repairs.

On Jan. 31, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell issued a local disaster declaration for our county. Later, the governor issued a disaster declaration for Texas. What does that mean for us citizens? Almost nothing. 

First, damage estimates and costs to address the disaster must pass thresholds for the county, then the state. While the county has passed its threshold, the state is near $48 million for its threshold of $51.5 million, which could mean funds for disaster response work and costs incurred, and possibly some assistance for qualifying residents with property damage, not debris pickup.

All involved need to generate and maintain careful records and receipts: costs for fuel, overtime, salaries, damages to buildings and equipment or any other related costs. Our Williamson County auditor is ensuring county employees are reporting all possible eligible reimbursements. Other entities such as independent school districts, emergency service districts and cities must do the same.

Note: We did all this for the tornados in 2022 and didn’t reach the necessary damage thresholds for county or state and received no FEMA reimbursements for expenses incurred by the county. Much of the damage was within Round Rock. Individual property owners who applied received financial assistance for damage to their homes, outbuildings such as barns and sheds, and businesses. The FEMA-determined threshold for Wilco is $2.7 million based on $4.14/person from the 2020 census of 609,017 residents. Reimbursement of expenses does not exceed 90% of costs incurred. If we’re lucky, reimbursements for the ice storm could start within six months.

Friday, February 17, 2023/Author: Doris Sanchez/Number of views (562)/Comments (0)/
Categories: Hot Topics

Updated ice storm aftermath information for Williamson County residents

By Commissioner Terry Cook

Williamson County does not have a storm debris collection program. Williamson County is not a refuse provider, unlike cities who do provide these services, often thru contract negotiated with a 3rd party. The majority of the county budget goes toward public safety and the judicial system at 72%. Cities provide a number of additional services that counties do not provide, including utilities, water and refuse services.

If you are inside city limits, please check to see if your city is supplying debris removal. You can check if you are inside city limits on the county map here www.wilco.org/GIS

Waste Management is offering a special price for brush and limbs at the Williamson County Landfill, 600 Landfill Road in Hutto. The reduced fee is $10 per covered pickup truckload of limbs and brush now through Feb. 19. This payment scale is for non-commercial vehicles and excludes trailers. PICKUP TRUCKS ONLY. The county is waving its 6.5% tipping fee, too, so $10 per pickup truck load and no sales tax is the price you pay. The normal charge for clean brush/wood is $8.64 per cubic yard. Trash/debris is $46.90 per ton.  You must wear a safety vest (usually orange or yellow) and a hard hat.

Those who are physically or financially limited can check with Austin Disaster Relief Network to apply for assistance. Austin Disaster Relief Network

If you live in the unincorporated area and it is not against your deed restrictions, you may burn brush as there is not a burn ban. Also, check with your Emergency Service District (ESD) to see if you need a permit. Please call and report your control burn to Williamson County Communications at (512) 864-8282.  Williamson County Communications should be able to inform you of any burning restrictions that Williamson County Communications has been made aware of and that may exist.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2023/Author: Doris Sanchez/Number of views (843)/Comments (0)/
Categories: Hot Topics

Ice storm aftermath information for Williamson County residents

by Commissioner Terry Cook

The destruction to our trees is unprecedented, and no area in Williamson County was spared.This is a very difficult time for our residents.

The county has been working overtime to clear streets in the unincorporated parts of Wilco by doing the only thing they legally do - moving the limbs and debris to the sides of the roads. Unfortunately, the county cannot do anything to improve your property, and that includes limb and debris removal.

If your tree limbs or trees fell into the roadway and were chopped up by the County’s Road and Bridge Crews, they will be stacking the wood back in your yard. THE TREE DEBRIS IS YOUR PROPERTY AND YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO REMOVE; TAKE IT TO THE COUNTY LANDFILL IF YOU LIVE OUTSIDE OF A CITY’S LIMITS. I encourage you to band with your neighbors and hire a hauler to remove the debris if you are not a city resident.

Your first call should be to your home insurance provider.

However, because a local disaster declaration was put out last week, you, as a homeowner and/or business owner, can also report damage to your home or business (not landscape) via the Individual State of Texas Assessment Tool, or iSTAT. Explanation of the iSTAT process can be found HERE. The link to the actual survey is HERE. To be clear, this is a process to assist with damages to your house, not your fence or yard, including the trees.

A disaster declaration could also allow for people with home damage to get some financial assistance, such as low interest loans, for people who are uninsured or underinsured. In order to be eligible, the county must meet a minimum threshold for damage and the state must have a disaster declaration and must meet a minimum threshold for damage.That minimum threshold is being determined as quickly as possible.

To be clear, FEMA is not on the way.  County residents are on their own for the cleanup from the ice no matter what you hear from neighbors or read on social media.

Monday, February 6, 2023/Author: Doris Sanchez/Number of views (523)/Comments (0)/
Categories: Hot Topics

It's 2023 and our resolutions are …

Column by Commissioner Cook

Williamson County Commissioner Terry Cook fully supports the City of Round Rock, the Texas Department of Transportation and Williamson County partnering on a project on RM 620 to add overpasses at Chisholm Trail and Lake Creek Drive, a roundabout at RM 620 and Chisholm Trail beneath the new overpass (partially completed), widened lanes, new frontage roads and improved bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. The overpasses will separate local traffic from through traffic, allowing through traffic to pass over the railroad tracks. Texas Department of Transportation

We’ve rung in the new year – 2022 left us tired, ragged, but hopeful that the worst is behind us. This is the time of year when many become introspective – who are we? Who do we want to be? Stronger, leaner, more resilient, more learned individuals perhaps? How long does that last? What are our values?

Mahatma Ghandi once stated that “we should watch our thoughts for they become our words, manage and watch our words for they become our actions. Consider and judge our actions for they become our habits. Acknowledge and watch our habits for they shall become our values. Understand and embrace our values, for they become our destiny.”

Williamson County is doing just that in developing a strategic plan, with the guidance of SBrand Solutions consultants, not to establish goals for just one year, but to establish and implement strategies to accomplish them over one, five, 10 years or longer. In Ghandi’s observations, values drive destinies. We will be developing the framework to hone our vision, mission and values supported by strategies to reach measurable results for short-, medium- and long-term goals.

Thursday, January 19, 2023/Author: Doris Sanchez/Number of views (666)/Comments (0)/
Categories: Hot Topics

Theme picker