Water war boils back up: Legislation may roll back groundwater protections

The fight over Hays County groundwater is bubbling once again after legislation in the 85th Texas Legislature has drawn the ire of a local state representative.   

At the center of the controversy is the 5,000-acre Needmore Ranch, located near Wimberley  and owned by south Texas beer distributor Greg LaMantia.

The property is within the jurisdiction of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District and the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. The latter was added as a result of 2015 House Bill 3405, or the “Save our Wells” bill, which allowed the BSEACD to take over jurisdiction over previously unregulated portions of the Trinity Aquifer.

As a result of HB 3405, Needmore LLC applied with the BSEACD for a regular production permit of 280 million gallons of water per year from the Trinity in January 2015.

Needmore Ranch LLC, owned by south Texas beer distributor Greg LaMantia, applied with the BSEACD in January 2015 for a regular production permit of 280 million gallons of water per year from the Trinity.

But Senate Bill (SB) 2254, authored by State Sen. Jose Hinojosa (D-McAllen) this year, would remove the Needmore Ranch Municipal Utility District No. 1, which was created in 2013, from the districts. In addition, the bill would give the ranch powers under Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code to operate as its own groundwater district.

SB 1814, authored by Hinojosa, and HB 4122, authored by State Rep Kyle Kacal (R-College Station), would allow a property owner with more than 1,000 acres of land situated in two groundwater conservation districts to petition a transfer into a single district.

Meanwhile, HB 4045 would allow a district to issue groundwater permits without notice or opportunity for a hearing to a property owner whose land is greater than 1,000 acres and is in two groundwater districts.

Permits that meet such criteria would be authorized production on a per acre basis.

All four bills have met resistance from the Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA), which opposes the bills.

On Tuesday, State Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) said the bills are “aimed at undoing the protections” in HB 3405.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that a few of my colleagues are playing games with the citizens of Hays County and attempting to undo the important groundwater protections that were passed last session for their own political gain.”

State Rep. Jason Isaac in a press release

John Dupnik, BSEACD general manager, said HB 4045 was of most concern to the district.   

He said the bill, if passed, could guarantee a large landowner a groundwater permit “without the application of science to consider pumping effects.” He added it would also eliminate due process for adjacent landowners, limiting them from the ability to view the permit or protest if they’re affected by it.

Dupnik said SB 1814 and HB 4122 were slightly problematic as they could allow a landowner to “shop around for the best rate deal for him.”

“It could allow a land owner to look for the district that has the least amount of regulations required of them,” Dupnik said.

SB 1814 could require redrawing election precincts and change appraisal district information statewide, a cost that could be born by taxpayers and not the landowner, Dupnik said.

Dupnik also was concerned about HB 2254 as he said it could “put the brakes” on the BSEACD’s process for the Needmore Ranch permit.

HB 2254 could create dissonance between groundwater districts and how they manage the aquifer and mitigate the impact to nearby well owners, Dupnik said.

Bills authored by Hinojosa and Kacal have been filed but have not gone to committee.

Four bills that could have an impact on Hays County groundwater

Senate Bill 2254 – authored by Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen)

The gist: SB 2254 would grant the Needmore Ranch Municipal Utility District No. 1 powers as a groundwater conservation district under Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code if an election is held for such purpose. At that time, Needmore Ranch MUD No. 1 would also be removed from jurisdiction of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District and the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District.

Senate Bill 1814 authored by Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen)

The gist: SB 1814 would allow the owner of a parcel of land greater than 1,000 acres and included in the jurisdiction of two or more groundwater districts to petition to transfer their entire parcel of land into a single district.

House Bill 4122 authored by Kyle Kacal (R-College Station)

The gist: A companion bill to SB 1814, HB 4122 would allow the owner of a parcel of land greater than 1,000 acres and included in the jurisdiction of two or more groundwater districts to petition to transfer their entire parcel of land into a single district.

House Bill 4045 filed by Phillip Cortez (D-San Antonio)

The gist: HB 4045 would allow a district to issue permits to landowners with more than 1,000 contiguous acres of land that’s under two or more groundwater districts without notice or the opportunity for a hearing. A permit issued would be authorized based on the volume of groundwater on a per acre basis based on the greatest amount authorized by the district that receives the application.

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