Springs protection group files suit over Needmore pumping permit

An organization dedicated to preserving groundwater resources in Hays County has filed suit against the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) over a permit given to a private company allowing it to pump 289 million gallons of water annually from the Trinity Aquifer.

The Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA) argues that a permit BSEACD issued to Needmore Water LLC in July 2019 should not have been granted. The permit was converted from a temporary permit issued in October 2015 that TESPA says was illegal because the well referenced was not in production at that time, meaning it could not be grandfathered in on new regulations that came in with HB 3405, which was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2015.

Events building up to the current situation, however, were set in motion even before that. In 2011, a popular area of the Blanco River was closed to the public after the acreage was sold by Houston attorney John O’Quinn to the Mantia family of south Texas, whose eventual goal was to create a Municipal Utility District (MUD) which would pave the way for a subdivision.

Things got even muddier in 2015, when Houston-based Electro Purification announced its plans to pump some five million gallons a day from a portion of the Trinity Aquifer that was not within the jurisdiction of a groundwater conservation district.

Nearby residents were fearful of the effect that would have on their water wells, given the state’s “right of capture,” which basically says landowners can pump all the water they are able to. Tests were conducted showing what the impact would be on nearby wells and the expense it would bring to landowners to deepen their wells sufficiently.

Enter the Texas Legislature, which sought to address the issue with HB 3405, which brought the unregulated area under the control of the BSEACD.

The original legislation contained language that prohibited the Needmore Ranch MUD from pumping groundwater for use in a residential subdivision; however, according to TESPA, a different piece of legislation repealed that language.

Senate Bill 2075, that repealed the language, was sponsored by State Senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels); while HB 3405 had among its supporters Campbell and State Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Driftwood).

The amount of Needmore’s permit, TESPA says, is enough to supply 5,280 households given that each uses approximately 150 gallons per day. The organizations further alleges that BSEACD’s own groundwater models “project a 140-foot decrease” in the level of wells as far as two miles distant from the Needmore well. That, TESPA says, is an “unreasonable impact.”

The organization also charged that BSEACD was aware in October 2015 that the Needmore well was found to be damaged and incapable of providing groundwater.

The lawsuit also makes the charge that the new rules ushered in by HB 3405 were less restricting than provisions of the Texas Water Code that was formerly applicable. Specifically, TESPA said that the legislation’s permitting process “circumvents” protections including whether the proposed pumping would affect existing surface water resources and whether the pumped water “is dedicated to any beneficial use with a non-speculative demand.”

TESPA officials defended the filing. “This issue of the regulation of this well is very important,” said Jim Blackburn, president. “We are fighting for our groundwater here in Hays County. Every drop counts, and in this situation 289 million gallons of water are being allowed to be taken without our having a chance to properly protect our property rights.”

“BSEACD needs to know that those of us who own adjacent groundwater will fight just as hard for our rights as those who are seeking to suck this water from the ground,” added Patrick Cox, executive director. “We were promised regulation of groundwater, not permitting without meaningful regulation, which is what we have gotten.”

“This is wrong,” Blackburn countered, “and we are going to fight it. If we don’t rise up and fight now, our groundwater is going to be lost and our springs and rivers along with it. We are going to do our best to keep this from happening.”

The case was filed Feb. 10 by attorney Jeff Mundy of Austin in the Travis County District Court.

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