By Sahar Chmais
In a rare occurrence, Hays County Commissioners were in sync on a decision opposing the language of a bill that would affect groundwater conservation rules in Hays County.
Constituents have sent letters to County Judge Ruben Becerra and commissioners Lon Shell, Walt Smith and Debbie Ingalsbe opposing HB 4618, according to the commissioners. This bill was created to improve the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District’s (HTGCD) ability to measure water usage, protect water quality, clarify the definition of a Connection Fee and give the district authorization to shift the district’s funding from a growth or development-based connection fee system to a production rate system.
Although commissioners were in favor of a bill that would support the conservation of water earlier this year, Smith said that “the devil is in the details” in regards to the wording of the bill.
HB 4618 would give districts the ability to require permitting, metering and production fees on residential wells that were established after Sept. 1, 2001, under chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code. District 45 St. Rep. Erin Zwiener issued an apology on social media stating that her office is aware of a drafting error in the bill in regards to the well establishment date.
“Neither I nor the HTGCD board have any intention of requiring permitting, metering, or production fees on residential wells that are already operational,” Zwiener’s statement read. “We also do not have any intention of requiring permitting or production fees for agricultural wells. The drafting error is the use of the date of September 1, 2001 instead of September 1, 2021. We will be releasing a committee substitute that corrects the error before the hearing.”
Smith sent Zwiener a letter on April 12, stating two main issues that will negatively affect residents.
One issue was with the timetable, as to not penalize residents who have lived in Hays County before Sept. 1, 2021.
“New development and additional wells are coming to Northwestern Hays County,” Smith wrote, “and possibly penalizing those who are already here and operating under the rules which were in place when they put in their infrastructure would seem arbitrary at best.”
Hays County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country and water in Central Texas is a precious resource. Preserving water rights and availability for residents in the dramatically increasing population was one of the main intentions, Smith explained.
Besides the penalization of residential wells, Smith took issue with another section of the bill which would also affect agricultural water use by mandating metering agricultural wells.
“I believe that as private property owners in Texas, we have a duty to preserve our resources,” his letter read, “and no one is better at that stewardship than the farmers and ranchers who earn their living from the land on a daily basis.”
While Smith said he is in support of incentivized programs funding the metering of wells for producers to assist them in establishing their historical usage, a mandate would be problematic.
A bigger issue the county faces is the thousands of homes coming to the area, which have a greater impact on the aquifer than the establishment of certain agricultural uses, Smith explained.
Commissioners unanimously voted to oppose HB 4618 as it is currently written, for that is in the best interest of Hays County residents, stated the resolution.