County leaders support contested case for water permit

Concerns over the long-term impact of a Houston-based firm’s controversial water request led Hays County Commissioners Tuesday to support contesting its proposed permit.

The decision, made via a unanimous vote on a resolution July 10, places Hays County Commissioners on a list clamoring for a hearing on Electro Purification’s (EP) quest for nearly 1 billion gallons of water per year from the Middle Trinity Aquifer.

According to a press release, commissioners ratified a letter sent June 25 by Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell to the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) seeking a contested case hearing on EP’s permit request.

EP, which had been at the center of the 2013 Hays County water wars, submitted a permit application with the BSEACD in 2017 to draw 912.5 million gallons of water per year for wholesale water supply. EP’s permit request calls for pumping the water from test wells located in the western part of Hays County.

Their application came as the result of 2015 House Bill 3405, or the Save our Wells bill, which expanded the BSEACD’s jurisdiction to include “white zones,” or areas of the Middle Trinity aquifer that had been previously unregulated. Entities that seek to pump water from that section of the Middle Trinity must submit a permit for approval from BSEACD.

EP in 2013 had sought to pump close to 2 billion gallons of water from the Middle Trinity, leading to public outcry and several pieces of legislation.

In early 2018, BSEACD officials recommended phasing in how much EP could pump from the Middle Trinity. The plan, or draft permit, would involve five phases of pumping, starting a .5 million gallons per day and going up to 2.5 million GPD by Phase V. The Hays Free Press reported in May the recommendation also calls for a compliance monitoring plan, impact avoidance plans and a mitigation plan.

However, commissioners believed the amount of water requested could adversely impact nearby well owners. Commissioners also believed the permit request, if approved, could affect “the natural and economic benefits” that come with Jacob’s Well and Blue Hole Park in the Wimberley area, according to the release.

Shell said in a statement scientists “agree there is a limited amount of water in the aquifer,” and that even Phase 1 of BSEACD’s recommendation could have negative impacts. On Tuesday, Shell cited the BSEACD’s draft permit, which he said estimates potential negative impacts associated with Phase I.

Shell said in his letter if EP were a residential developer, application of Hays County subdivision regulations would allow for 193,185 GPD of pumping.

“At the highest level, properties could potentially become useless to their owners,” Shell said. “This draft permit will allow Electro Purification to take water from one area of the county, leaving that area without sufficient water, to supply another area that will also eventually lack water when the water in the aquifer disappears.”

Residents continued to relay concerns about the draft permit during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting. A 41-year resident of the Rolling Oaks subdivision asked commissioners to “do whatever you can to stop this or curtail this in some way.”

Another nearby landowner said it was a “frightening experience to go through this process.” The landowner said the fight over EP’s permit is a “mess because of the state and its water code laws,” and that county residents are in the middle.

In Texas, groundwater follows a rule of capture law, which grants landowners rights to obtain water under their property.

Shell said several landowners and other entities have already expressed interest in a contested case hearing. Will Conley, former Hays County Pct. 3 commissioner, said during public comment the water request is “a horrible idea created by people who have no interest in our community.”

 “This is not a panic. This is something they (homeowners) have been worried about for more than three years now,” Shell said. “We need to provide support to them.”

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