Rough waters for state legislators

An interview with Texas State Rep. Jason Isaac (District 45) at Thursday’s Kyle Chamber of Commerce luncheon

By Kim Hilsenbeck

Note, this interview was edited for clarity.

HFP: The biggest question I think a lot of people want to know is, will the state touch the Rule of Capture law [from 1904]? 

JI: No. 

HFP: Would you, if it were up to you would you tweak it? 

JI: I don’t know enough about it to know if it needs any tweaking. It’s a Constitutional amendment. To change the constitution, you [have]got [to get]100 votes in the house, you’ve got to have 21 in the senate, and then the governor’s got to sign it.  

HFP: So you don’t think it would have that support? 

JI: Not at all with Rule of Capture (ROC). I’ll mention this in my Town Hall [on Feb. 10]and educate people. You’ve got to think about farmers and ranchers throughout the entire state that use ROC to grow the food that we eat. So there is just no change in that [law]whatsoever.  

HFP: Do people see a difference between farmers who grow our food and people who come here and sell water to make money? 

JI: Absolutely. And so there are groundwater management groups all over the entire state. And there are priority groundwater management areas within those. Like GMA 9 is a priority groundwater management area. And in there, statute says…there may be some tweaks that have been done to the rule of capture. Now you can have ag[riculture]and livestock exemptions, you can have residential exemptions, but then your commercial, you don’t have the exemptions. In some of the districts you can charge production fees to put the infrastructure in place…hey, this water is to be sold and we’re going to charge you for it, ‘cause that’s going to increase the cost of it and increase conservation. So, I guess there has been some tweaking that’s been done to it, but to come in and say Rule of Capture doesn’t exist anymore, it’s just not going to happen. We’ve really got to find a local solution.  

HFP: What are you proposing? What are you working on? 

JI: I know a lot of people want me to expand the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, but that is in GMA [groundwater management area]9. The area that is unprotected right now is in GMA 10. And so we need to find a district that is in GMA 10 and we don’t want districts that cross-pollinate between because there’s different water sheds, so the best option at this point in time would really be to expand the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. They have said they’re not interested in that.  

HFP: You mean like some kind of annexation? 

JI: You change the state legislation and it moves their geographic boundaries. And they’re [BSEACD] not interested in it. They want the Hays Trinity to do that, but that’s just not an option because you’re crossing groundwater management areas.  

So these are some of the conversations I still have to have and I need to implore the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District to say, “would you please take all the areas in Hays County?” because it’s in their groundwater management areas that are currently not protected. And then we can expand that. And they [BSEACD] have the ability to charge production fees. So that is looking like it’s going to be our best option at this point in time. I’d have given you a completely different answer five days ago. 

HFP: Really? 

JI: That’s how much this is changing.  

HFP: It’s big. 

JI: But this has been a huge concern of mine since I found out six to nine months ago. And it’s too bad because the GMAs have known about this for five years, long before I was in office. It gets brought to my attention six-seven months ago, and I’m like, “Well, we’ve gotta act.” So I start bouncing ideas off as many people as I possibly can to try to come up with a solution, and literally I thought, let’s get the Hays Trinity Groundwater district, let’s give it to them. And somebody said, ‘but the GMA line is there for a reason.’ OK, didn’t realize that. So now I know that. Now it’s [all about]let’s keep it in the same groundwater management district. 

HFP: It must be an educational process for you as you go through this [situation]. 

JI: You have no idea. And it’s literally seven out of every ten of my meetings and phone conversations is about this [water issue]. 

HFP: I know you believe in property rights, but how do we balance that with common sense, and as Representative [John] Raney said [in the chamber meeting], do no harm?  

JI: Sure. 

HFP: I think people’s concern is…you can take all that water from there [Wimberley] and sell it to Buda and Goforth and Anthem, but then what happens when our wells go down and we are harmed?  

JI: Right. 

HFP: And they all have to move their pumps down 200 feet and they can’t afford to do that.

JI: No. 

HFP: So what do we do? 

JI: And that’s the concern. The city of Buda has said ‘we’re not going to move forward unless there’s a mitigation plan in place’ [in its contract with EP]. But it’s got to be proactive mitigation, not reactive. [They would say], ‘We’ve been monitoring your well and it’s losing water, so we’re going to come in and lower your pump. Or we’re going to drill your well deeper.’ 

HFP: Who is going to do that? 

JI: The city of Buda would ultimately be responsible as the largest [EP] customer. If that’s what’s in the mitigation plan. 

HFP: Those details haven’t even been hammered out yet. 

JI: They have not. I know the Hays Caldwell Public Utility Association (HCPUA), they have a mitigation plan in place where they’re taking ground water. 

HFP: How do you know if the water coming out of the EP well is going to Buda, or Goforth or Anthem? It’s one pipe. 

JI: You don’t. You don’t, and so that’s the concern. Let’s say that Buda signs a contract for reserve water. It’s either TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) or TWDB (Texas Water Development Board) that require that you have so much water on reserve for every LUE — living unit equivalent. It’s on reserve. So they may buy water on reserve and never take a drop. That makes their mitigation agreement useless. So, Goforth needs to have a mitigation agreement. 

HFP: They didn’t put one in [their contract]. 

JI: No, they didn’t. And Clark Wilson is going to ask me to do a Municipal Utility District (MUD). That’s something that I could put language in for a Municipal Utility District. First and foremost I serve the people that are there now. 

HFP: But people have problems with MUDs, and PIDs and PUDs, too. 

JI: Absolutely. And that’s where I err on the side of private property rights.  

[Here he explained how when he bought his home, he asked what would be built in the nearby green space. The developer didn’t know. But Isaac said even if it was a Wal-Mart distribution center, that’s the property owner’s right to build that.]

JI: That’s why I did the Needmore Ranch MUD last [legislative]session because it’s [the property owner’s]right to have it done. Now with Needmore, we kept that land together, because it could have been sold off piecemeal.  

[Here he talked about private property right violations not directly related to water.] 

HFP: Did any of the folks who are involved in any of this [EP project] — EP, LAN [the engineering firm that will build the pipe to bring water from EP’s well to its customers]— did they contribute to your campaign? 

JI: On the last day of filing for campaign contributions, I noticed a thousand dollar contribution from Clark Wilson and I had no idea who it was. I’d never met with him. 

[He later said he met with Wilson in recent weeks.]

[We switched the topic of creating a new groundwater conservation district in the area where EP wants to drill, as allowed under Chapter 36 of the Texas water code. Such a district would have taxing authority.]

JI: There is no likelihood of Chapter 36. I’m not going to support legislation that would ultimately lead to a tax on people. Especially if they have rain water collection systems. Why would they want to pay a tax when they’ve been conservationists? It’s not going to happen. So the likelihood is zero.

HFP: Could the state require developers to install rainwater catchment systems in new homes? 

JI: That I have to look into.

HFP: What do you think about that idea? 

JI: I’m working on some stuff dealing with rainwater collection where it would decrease the valuation of people’s homes, so if you currently have rainwater collection systems. We’re trying to figure out a number or a percentage to say, guess what, if you have one and this bill passes, you get an immediate $20,000 deduction on the valuation of a home. Not saying you’re going to save $20,000 on your property taxes. So that could save them some money. I want it to be retro active for those who already made the conscious decision to do that. I’m going to have several bills [this legislative session]that have water conservation [aspects]and that’s one of the ideas.

 

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