By Andy Sevilla
In an unprecedented move, State Representative Jason Isaac filed a bill Thursday that removes eminent domain authority from the Goforth Water Special Utility District outside of its boundaries and service area.
If approved, a private water mining project looking to extract 1.9 billion gallons of water per year from the Trinity Aquifer in an unregulated area of western Hays County could be jeopardized.
“This is not just a water issue, it is also about property rights,” Isaac said. “Goforth SUD using eminent domain authority, for the benefit of a private company, is an egregious abuse of their power.
“HB 3407 will prevent Goforth from acquiring the pipeline easements by condemning land from property owners along FM 3237 and FM 150, and anywhere else that is not within the boundaries of their district.”
Isaac’s bill — one of several filed this session regarding groundwater — comes after a Houston-based commercial water supplier, Electro Purification (EP), made plans to drill a well field over an unregulated area of the Trinity Aquifer and pipe 5.3 million gallons of water per day east to Buda, Goforth Water and a private residential development near Mountain City.
An attorney for Goforth Water, Leonard Dougal, told the Texas Tribune that Isaac’s bills, if successful, would not derail the water-mining project. Instead, Dougal said, if Goforth loses its eminent domain power, Buda — which has eminent domain authority — could take over the construction of the pipeline.
Buda Mayor Todd Ruge told Hays Free Press Friday that Isaac’s bill regarding Goforth’s eminent domain power “certainly is an interesting development.” For now, he said, “All options are on the table.”
In an official city statement released Saturday, Buda said it supports establishing “a just and consistent process for regulating non-exempt groundwater production,” unless it disproportionally or adversely affects a city’s ability to provide an adequate water supply to its users.
Ruge said the city has been working on getting a short-term solution to Buda’s water need since 2010, and until that needed resource can be secured, he said officials couldn’t take any options off the table.
A look at Buda’s water inventory by Lockwood Andrews and Newman found the city would need additional water as soon as 2017 to accommodate growth. Buda is a member of the Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency (HCPUA), which is working to secure future long-term water resources for its members.
In its statement, Buda said Isaac represents the city, however none of its 13,000 citizens were consulted, their input included, nor their needs considered when writing the legislation.
“The City of Buda is always open to and continues to encourage dialog and cooperation among all affected parties in Hays County to help achieve the balance in efficient and effective legislation without undue regulations,” the statement said.
EP presently has seven test drills in Hays County’s white zone, just outside of Wimberley. All but one are said to be viable producers of water necessary to fulfill EP’s contracts with its three water customers.
Isaac has warned constituents that his proposed bills may not be enough to effectively kill the EP water project in Hays County. The EP project could end up sliding under the radar depending on how long it may take to approve Isaac’s legislation.
HB 3407, which would strip Goforth Water of its eminent domain authority outside of its jurisdiction, if approved by a two-thirds vote in the house and senate, would go in to effect immediately. If the measure is approved, but doesn’t meet the two-thirds requirement, it would go into effect Sept. 1.
“I remain confident that the legislation we filed today will help bring a solution to protect not only the Trinity Aquifer, but also well owners who are worried about their wells running dry in the near future, and property owners who could lose their land from the wrongful use of eminent domain powers,” Isaac said.
Other water legislation:
Rep. Jason Isaac, joined by State Senator Donna Campbell with a companion bill, also filed legislation last Thursday aimed at expanding the boundaries of two groundwater conservation districts in Hays County.
HB 3405/SB 1439 and HB 3406/SB 1440 could bring the Trinity Aquifer in Hays County under the watch of either the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District or the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, both could have their district boundaries extended through the proposed legislation.
“Now we can legally pursue legislation to address the groundwater issues in Hays County,” Isaac said at a press conference at the Capitol Thursday. “… The white zone (unregulated area) will effectively be gone in Hays County.”