Goforth SUD could obtain eminent domain powers

An area special utility district (SUD) could gain powers to build an 11-mile pipeline should officials approve a proposed groundwater permit to pump close to one billion gallons of water annually from the Trinity Aquifer.

Goforth SUD could obtain eminent domain powers allowing construction of infrastructure that could funnel water from test wells near Wimberley, owned by Electro Purification (EP), to its customers in Hays, Travis and Caldwell counties.

Goforth is a customer of EP, a Houston-based firm which had applied to the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) for a permit to pump more than 900 million gallons of water per year. However, the permit is currently being contested by multiple organizations.

Under Sec. 49.222 of the Texas Water Code, a district or water supply corporation may acquire by the condemnation of any land, easements or other property inside or outside the district boundaries.

“We’re seeing the same issue with Kinder Morgan and Hays County residents are tired of how these companies have eminent domain authority,” said Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) President Linda Rogers.

Although EP is a private corporation, the water pumped from its wells could be utilized by Goforth and its customers. SUDs are considered a local governmental agency that provides limited services to its customers and residents, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) website.

But before eminent domain is on the table, EP’s water permit must be approved.

“Because our work is primarily focused on groundwater, we haven’t crossed that bridge yet,” said TESAP Executive Director Vanessa Puig-Williams. “Eminent domain law is completely different. Our focus has always been on fighting the permit. If they don’t have a permit, there is no pipeline to build.”

Property can only be condemned for “public use,” according to the Texas A&M Texas Agriculture Law blog. Public use can include property owned by the state, a political subdivsion, the general public or an entity granted eminent domain powers.

“This definition is not entirely helpful and courts generally decided whether a taking is for public use based upon the specific facts of that case,” said Tiffany Dowell in a post on the blog.

Rogers said the Texas Legislature has continuously ignored any efforts to reform eminent domain law in the state over the span of a few sessions.

“I understand it’s needed in some instances, but in the case of EP, that water will be taken by a company that has no interest in Hays County to serve those are not in Hays County,” Rogers said.

Local activists and water officials are focused on the permit.

“Yes, both aspects are important, but no permit means no pipe,” Rogers said. “We’re confident EP will not be able to pump past phase II of the pumping plan outlined by the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. We’re going to see negative impacts on the aquifer.”

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