by BRAD ROLLINS
San Marcos Mercury
San Marcos and the rest of a cross-county effort to secure a future long term water supply are poised to explore a partnership with its chief competitor for groundwater rights in the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer east of the Austin-San Antonio corridor.
The Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency’s board recently adopted a letter of intent to work with Texas Water Alliance, a subsidiary of the publicly traded San Jose (Calif.) Water Company (SJW Corp.). The two have agreed to discuss sharing the massive upfront cost of building well fields to pump, a plant to treat and a pipeline to transport groundwater from eastern Caldwell and northern Gonzales counties to high-growth areas along Interstate 35 and Texas 130.
The public utility agency has an application pending with the Gonzalez County Underground Water District that would allow San Marcos and its partners – Kyle, Buda and the Canyon Regional Water Authority – to pump 10,300 acre-feet of water a year from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer when it needs the supply; as of July, the agency has signed longterm ground leases on 17,841 acres where it intends to pump water. TWA is applying for the right to pump and transport 15,000 acre-feet from the same area and bring it westward, including to its existing wholesale customer that provides retail water service around Canyon Lake and other rapidly developing areas of Comal County. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons.
The letter approved by the HCPUA yesterday afternoon says both parties will keep their own water permits but investigate whether their plans are compatible enough to share costly infrastructure like a water treatment plant and, most notably, a huge underground pipeline slicing across Caldwell County.
“We feel like it is big news. We are the the two that are seeking permits [for that portion of the Carrizo-Wilcox]and we think it makes sense for us to join up because we’re so close to each other,” said Graham Moore, HCPUA’s project manager. “Any way that we can try and reduce the cost for the ratepayer, we want to look at those options.”
Besides the considerable hard costs of infrastructure – HCPUA’s plans call for a phase 1 investment of $109 million in the next eight years – the agency and TWA can also pool political clout to lobby legislators for changes to state law critical for both projects. Currently, production permits to pump groundwater expire after five years – years before HCPUA members even need the water – but the transport permits last 30 years. The HCPUA wants to extend the life of production permits from five to 30 years.
Letters of intent are not contracts and this one is, in fact, explicitly non-binding. It may however mark a major realignment between two of the players trying to build wildly expensive – and potentially wildly profitable – large-scale water supply projects in various parts of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which spans more than 60 counties from Texarkana to the U.S.-Mexico border.
About a year and a half ago, those who watch maneuvering over lucrative long term water supplies took note of a publicly touted letter of intent from TWA to buy water from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. That letter has since expired.