Experts fear negative impact from EP water permits

Two pending groundwater permits in Hays County, if approved, could severely damage the Trinity Aquifer, according to multiple hydrogeologists in the area. 

Those permits, filed by Needmore Water, LLC and Electro Purification, LLC, are vying to pump more than 1.2 billion gallons of water a year, combined, if approved by the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD)  

But local experts feel Needmore Water’s permit, which seeks to pump 289 million gallons annually from the Trinity, could have more of an impact. Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA) Executive Director Vanessa Puig-Williams said in an online update that Needmore’s permit equates to water used by more than 5,000 homes.

An aquifer test done by Wet Rock Groundwater Services, Needmore’s hydrogeologist, concludes a 14-foot drawdown from a well 1.95 miles from a well on Needmore Ranch. Wet Rock also provided hydrogeology services for EP, which has been contested by experts. 

James Beach with WSP Consulting in Austin testified during an April 12 hearing on a contested case against EP’s permit that the combined permits could result in a 35% loss in water volume in the Trinity Aquifer. 

His calculations indicated that the Cow Creek wells near O’Neill Ranch would experience a permanent decline of 60 feet after one year, 120 feet after seven years and 175 feet after 30 years. 

On July 29, the BSEACD will hold a final hearing on the status of the Needmore permit. TESPA and other experts are expected to argue for the board to deny Needmore’s permit.  

Meanwhile, a task force has been formed by Hays County leaders to protect the Trinity Aquifer.

The task force, formed by Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell and Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith, will establish a groundwater model to adequately determine the available water in the Trinity.

For Marshall Jennings, a hydrogeologist, former Texas State University professor and chair of the Hays County Task Force on Trinity Aquifer Sustainability, the impact of the two permits could span beyond the Wimberley Valley. 

Jennings said Beach’s analysis all but proves the entire western portion of Hays County will feel the effect of the permit after seven years. Jennings estimates the two permits could produce water to the equivalent of 10,000 homes going online.

As chair, Jennings hopes the task force will provide scientific analysis on the available water while putting to rest the notion that EP and Needmore can pump without harm. 

“We are professionals, policy experts and scientists,” Jennings said. “I believe we can achieve sustainability of the aquifer through the task force.” 

More time could also be on the task force’s side.

EP has requested to postpone the contested case slated for September 2019, due in part to Beach’s analysis. EP’s contested case might not see a judge until April 2020.

“It’s not just Wimberley that will see the effects, I can promise you that,” Jennings said. “This will affect Dripping Springs too, and we need people to understand that these permits have a regional consequence.” 

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