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Could landowners switch groundwater districts?

As House Bill (HB) 4122 passed the Texas House of Representatives on third and final reading, State Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) said he is afraid the bill will “set a bad precedent” for groundwater protection in the future.

Isaac said the controversial bill, which passed by a 112-30 vote in the Texas House May 8, would allow large landowners with more than 1,000 acres that straddle more than one groundwater conservation district to switch over to just one district. See more about water bills in the Lege here.

“When this bill was originally filed, it was filed for one landowner whose land falls entirely in my district,” Isaac said. “This landowner has had several bills filed on his behalf this session to get out of the purview of any conservation districts.”

Isaac said the version of 4122 that passed the House was not the same bill that was introduced and featured significant changes. That included allowing each district that receives a petition from a landowner for the transference of property to hold a hearing on the matter.

Isaac said he felt better about the bill, but believed it “still sets a bad precedent.”

The change includes language that addresses any future disputes regarding the collection of property taxes by groundwater districts. Currently in Hays County, neither the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District nor the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District collects property tax revenue.

“I think this is a bad precedent and I voted against it and I encouraged others to do the same … I don’t like the fact that we’re making legislation for people who are particularly wealthy. We’re picking classes and saying ‘if you’re wealthy then you can pick which groundwater conservation district you want to belong to.’”
State Rep. Jason Isaac

Isaac was also concerned about House and Senate bills that he believes could undermine 2015’s House Bill 3405, or the “Save our Wells” bill, which expanded the jurisdiction of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) in Hays County.

Isaac referenced Senate Bill 2254, authored by Rep. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), which would grant Needmore Ranch, owned by south Texas beer distributor Greg LaMantia, as its own groundwater conservation district that he would “completely control” and could pump as much water as he wanted.

“Any of those proposed bills jeopardizes HB 3405 that we worked so hard to pass during the last legislative session dealing with the protection of our wells,” Isaac said.

HB 3405 was crafted after Houston-based water provider Electro Purification sought to pump water from what were previously unregulated portions of the Middle Trinity Aquifer in western Hays County.

Isaac stressed the importance of not backpedaling on 2015’s HB 3405.

“We don’t want to risk that, we take any chances undoing what was passed,” Isaac said.

Isaac said a version of HB 4122 could make its way to the Senate floor this week. Isaac says State Senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), whom he’s working closely with, is “keeping watch against people who want to see protections for wells decreased.”

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