By Andy Sevilla
When Janice Riles Rogers, 60, returned to Driftwood eight years ago, it was like a homecoming.
She had a home, many friends and neighbors awaiting her return to Driftwood after caring for elderly parents in New Mexico.
Now, Rogers says she may be forced to leave everything behind once more.
“I moved back here to live out the rest of my life,” Rogers said as tears welled in her eyes and her voice broke with emotion. “Now I’m being told my water well may run dry, and that my way of life may come to an end.”
Rogers – like many of her neighbors, some public officials and two groundwater conservation districts’ representatives – is concerned about domestic wells that rely on the Trinity Aquifer in western Hays County.
A Houston-based commercial water supplier, Electro Purification (EP), is developing a water well field in western Hays County with a plan to pump 1.8 billion gallons of water per year.
The well field is located in an unregulated area, also known as a “white zone,” just outside the boundaries of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) and the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD). The field is in the Edwards Aquifer Authority’s jurisdiction, but that authority only regulates the Edwards Aquifer, and not the Trinity beneath it.
“I’m at ground zero,” Rogers said. “I’m a mile-and-a-half from where they’re drilling.”
Rogers, a retiring nurse, says she doesn’t have the money to drill her well deeper.
“It’s wrong,” she said. “My well should not run dry. I need that water. I’m not asking for a lot, I’m not trying to run a golf course, I just want to have water at my house.”
The city of Buda has come strongly under fire recently for being the latest EP customer to sign up for the Trinity Aquifer water.
Buda agreed to contract with EP for 1 million gallons of water per day. The Goforth Water Special Utility District and Clark Wilson, a developer looking to build 2,200 homes in Mountain City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, previously contracted with EP for 3.0 million and 1.3 million gallons of water per day.
Buda was pelted with criticism on its official Facebook page after issuing a letter of empathy on Jan. 21 – a day after agreeing to contract with EP – to those concerned their domestic wells may run dry.
A quick glance at the city’s Facebook page reveals critic’s comments have largely been hidden or deleted. For example, on a Jan. 21 post, it says there were 26 comments. Only four are now visible.
A commenter wrote, “Please allow all comments to be visible….governmental transparency….”
On Jan. 22, of 18 comments, one was still available.
Despite what looked like censorship, many attended the Feb. 3 Buda council meeting and further appealed to city leaders to reconsider.
“I want to take the opportunity to express my deep, deep dismay at the decision…to move forward with this water contract,” Tavern on Main owner Julie Renfro told the council. “I’m a resident, I’m a small business owner and employer of Buda and we are now being threatened with a boycott of our city because of this choice. It’s humiliating, it’s embarrassing.”
Another public commenter accused Buda of “basically buying stolen goods.” Driftwood resident Bob Gillespie told council members they were effectively stealing water and he and his neighbors are riled up about it.
“We intend to fight this, and we intend to stop it,” Gillespie said. “We’re not going to give up, we’ve got no choice. Our wells, our property values and our lives depend on stopping this.”
Buda city leaders said they demanded a mitigation clause in their EP contract, to ensure any domestic wells affected are helped. Buda has been the only local EP customer to include mitigation.
“EP has a legal team that will never allow mitigation to happen,” Gillespie said. “They will use the fine print, they’ll use their political connections, they’ll use the courts if need be…to make sure that they never pay a dime – ever.”
The Buda council listened to the concerns of all who spoke against the EP agreement. The matter was not on the agenda, therefore elected officials were not legally allowed to comment on the future water supply.
As it stands, the wheels are turning to pump water to Buda, Goforth and Clark Wilson’s proposed Anthem development.
The Hays County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a resolution supporting all land within the county to be regulated by a water group. State Rep. Jason Isaac recently filed legislation to address water issues. He also hosted a town hall meeting Feb. 10 in Wimberley.