Water could be more costly than whiskey

The old adage that “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over” takes on new meaning as more and more people become concerned with Hays County’s future.

New developments coming in to towns and cities across the Central Texas region are all fighting for the right to pump, use and even sell water from the aquifers that run beneath our feet. Hays County Commissioners are getting into the game, trying to secure from other counties this precious resource, paying millions of our tax dollars just for the promise of future water.

It seems that, despite groups like the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer District and Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency trying to get the word out about water, some folks are just opening their eyes to this problem. Citizens are working hard to protect this resource, yet some private industries — and even governments — are getting poised to exploit our aquifers. 

This issue, though, is not quite black and white.

Take the Electro Purification situation in Wimberley. The Houston-based company wants to drill for water from the Trinity, then sell it to Buda and Goforth, and to new developments like the Clark Wilson project behind Mountain City called Anthem, with a planned 2,200 homes. With no real vested interest in the overall region, what’s to stop Electro Purification or other firms from over-pumping the aquifer and potentially causing problems for those with nearby private residential wells?

Of course, Buda touts the mitigation clause in its contract with Electro Purification. Yet the details of any such clause have yet to be defined. How would anyone prove that it was water pumped for Buda that caused a depletion of wells in Wimberley? The water will all travel through the same pipes.

Still, Buda and Goforth are growing and need water. Where should those residents find it? Should Clark Wilson not be allowed to develop on private property? Texas prides itself on private property rights.

We can’t really have it both ways.

Someone — or some entity — needs to be in charge of regulating and protecting the aquifers. Just because property owners have land here doesn’t mean they can pump it dry and destroy the homes, futures and even livelihoods of those living next door.

Are private companies responsible enough to make sure neighbors’ livelihoods are protected? Electro Purification drilled in a “white zone” where no one is tasked with protecting the water. What responsibility does that firm have to protect water resources?

Local development efforts for the past two decades moved the county forward in terms of economic saliency, particularly in once sleepy bedroom towns like Buda and Kyle. New commercial businesses coupled with housing units made Hays one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. The U.S. Census projects more than 600,000 Hays County residents within 20 years.

That’s a lot of lawns, which experts say is the reason for about seventy percent of water use.

Were the people who moved into new neighborhoods in the housing boom in the early 2000s concerned about water? Did they implement drought protection measures such as native plants and grasses, rainwater harvesting and water conserving appliances? Some, sure. But not all.

Some folks have just realized that with population growth comes a precarious situation. The region’s perpetual drought affects us all.

And it’s time to open our eyes to the fact that we can’t pump without some kind of regulation. The Rule of Capture is from 1904. Certainly it warrants a second look 100 years later.

We can’t halt new growth because counties and cities, by law, must allow development to occur if the developers meet the letter of the law.

And we can’t put our heads in the sand, saying, ‘I’m here but I don’t want anyone else to move here.’

Water prices will have to rise to make some folks think before leaving their water running. The legislature will have to raise what BSEACD can charge per gallon to force well owners to have some restraint.

And the county, which seems hell bent on spending our money on the “promise” of some future water, needs to get out of that business and do what it does best – enacting rules. Perhaps some that force developers to use built in rain-catchment systems and drought resistant landscaping would be useful.

How will cities in Hays County move forward as viable employment and living centers if water is in danger of running out?

The county faces a true dilemma as it marches into the future. How we as citizens respond, including whom we vote for and our own conservation efforts, will have a tremendous impact on the next several generations. 

But how our elected officials act is probably more important. Sure, we still have to deal with transportation, education, incarceration and taxation.

But without water, the rest won’t really matter.

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