Aquifer district presents plan to harness EP

Almost 200 Hays County residents crammed into the Wimberley Community Center Monday to hear the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District’s (BSEACD) recommendation on a 2.5 million gallon per day pumping permit by Electro Purification (EP).

BSEACD general manager and staff recommended a plan for Electro Purification’s pumping permit, which originally called for 2.5 million gallons per day of water to be pumped from the Trinity Aquifer.

The forum was hosted by BSEACD to discuss the staff’s recommendation to the board for the permit.

The goal for the aquifer district was to inform the public about the permit and clear any misconceptions surrounding EP’s submitted application and the staff’s recommendation.

EP, which originally submitted an application to pump nearly a billion gallons of water a year from the aquifer, was met with serious scrutiny from the scientific team at BSEACD, citing the proposed pumping would cause unreasonable impact on the aquifer and its surrounding wells.

“It is our goal to avoid unreasonable impact to the aquifer,” said Vanessa Escobar, senior regulatory compliance coordinator for the BSEACD. “We don’t just issue permits: we scrutinize them. For this permit, we’ve spent months reviewing all of its implications.”

The general manager’s proposed permit to the board includes a phased pumping plan that would allow EP to pump half a million gallons a day from the aquifer, two million gallons less than the company requested.

“EP will not be allowed to move to Phase II (one million gallons a day) without the permission of the general manager,” Escobar said. “EP may request to move into additional phases, but that will come at the discretion of the district.”

Escobar said the district does not anticipate seeing any unreasonable impact on the aquifer at Phase I, but admitted any issues could come from Phase II and beyond.

Contrary to public opinion, the aquifer district cannot deny EP a permit. By law, groundwater in Texas is private, meaning the Houston company has a right to pump on its leased land. Denying the company a permit could result in a legal battle.

Currently, the district cannot scientifically predict the long-term effects of the pumping but will assess those concerns by monitoring drawdown and surrounding wells as pumping begins.

Additionally, the district said EP will be financially responsible for any damages that may occur to citizens’ wells during the pumping.

Residents in the surrounding area from EP’s wells may not receive protection from the water district. The company’s wells are located between Kyle and Wimberley and sit on the periphery of two water districts’ jurisdiction.

Some citizens present at Monday night’s meeting have wells located in the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District’s jurisdiction but  may be affected by EP’s pumping in the case of drawdown from the aquifer.

Since the permit is through BSEACD, those located in the other district’s jurisdiction will not qualify for protection.

The news was met with applause from the crowd, but many remain skeptical about whether the water district would be able to fight the corporation.

The approval or denial of a permit is based on reasonable and unspeculative demand, Escobar said. The district asks for proof of demand based on the request from the applicant and what the water will be used for – domestic, commercial, public water supply or agricultural.

“Our goal is to not allow for any wells to go down with the pumping,” said Bryan Smith, principal hydrogeologist for the BSEACD. “Our plan is to monitor the smaller amounts of pumping to see at what point before the 2.5 million (gallon pumpage) we will see an impact to the aquifer.”

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