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Nonprofit to EP: stop the wells

Group files suit to halt EP well project

By Moses Leos III

In another chapter of the Hays County water wars, a nonprofit group aims to bring a Trinity Aquifer well project to a temporary halt.

The Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA) filed suit Friday in Hays County District Court against Electro Purification (EP), the Houston-based commercial water supplier planning to pump more than one billion gallons of water a year out of the Trinity in western Hays County.

Landowners who leased groundwater to EP, Robert A. Bridges and James A. Bridges and Laverne and Margie Odell and their children, were also named in the suit.

According to a release, the injunction was filed behalf of TESPA members living within a half-mile radius of the EP well project.

TESPA filed the suit against EP under Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code. Under that chapter, landowners can file litigation against well construction on adjacent property when wells were constructed without obtaining appropriate permitting.

EP plans to drill a well field in what has been called a white zone — an unregulated area — of the Trinity Aquifer along FM 3237 near Wimberley. The firm has contracts in place to pipe 5.3 million gallons of water per day, or 1.9 billion gallons per year, east to Buda, Goforth Water Special Utility District, and Anthem, a private residential development near Mountain City owned by Clark Wilson.

However, TESPA’s suit claims EP’s proposed well field falls within the jurisdiction of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD).

TESPA lead trial lawyer Jeff Mundy said in a statement that the Texas Legislature gave the HTGCD “default jurisdiction over groundwater in all of Hays County” provided no other groundwater conservation district has been granted jurisdiction.

“The HTGCD has a legislatively mandated duty to protect groundwater to assure it is used in a sustainable manner,” Mundy said.

TESPA claims that EP has not provided the required notice to drill nor obtained permits to produce water from the well to the HTGCD. They are asking the court to forbid EP from any further drilling or water production from their wells until they obtain the required permits from the HTGCD.  

The release states the suit would halt EP until the HTGCD responds to the “allegation that they have regulatory responsibility” for the wells.

HTGCD was served a letter of 90-day notice on Tuesday to determine if they will take any action.

But TESPA is also asking the Supreme Court of Texas to possibly review and overturn the “Rule of Capture” law as it applies to groundwater. According to the release, it would be only in the event if the courts rule that the HTGCD doesn’t have jurisdiction over EP’s wells.

Under the “rule of capture” law, landowners are given the right to pump and capture water that is available beneath their property.

TESPA is challenging the law by stating it violates new groundwater rights established by the Texas Supreme Court. It’s based on the “extensive well drawdown” that could occur to adjacent properties due to EP’s project.

Vanessa Puig-Williams, an environmental attorney assisting TESPA, said in a statement that the Rule of Capture is “harsh and archaic,” dating back to a 1904 decision when groundwater was “secret and occult.”

“We are well beyond the occult in our understanding of groundwater today, and we feel that the time is ripe to challenge this doctrine that has long outlived its usefulness,” Puig-Williams said.

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