A water wise word from our friends at CARD
Some believe a knight on a white stallion will ride in and solve the water shortage creeping up on western Hays County and the Wimberley Valley. The solution was supposed to be big pipelines bringing imported groundwater in from east of IH 35. The Hays County Water and Sewer Plan developed in 2010 called for a 16" pipeline running from the San Marcos area into the Wimberley Valley to supplement existing groundwater pumped by area water supply companies and individual well owners from the local Trinity Aquifer.
On May 15, 2013 a game-changing decision was made by the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District which covers Lee and Bastrop Counties. Forestar Real Estate Group, Austin and the Lower Colorado River Authority had asked the Lost Pines GCD to grant them the right to pump groundwater to users west of IH 35. Forestar requested 45,000 acre-feet (14 billion gallons) per year. The LCRA asked for 10,000 acre-feet (3 billion gallons) per year. After a long and contentious water rights battle, the ten directors of the Lost Pines GCD decided to issue reduced groundwater pumping permits: Forestar at 12,000 acre feet (4 billion gallons) per year and LCRA at 5,000 acre feet (1.6 billion gallons) per year. Hays County had issued a request for proposals (RFP) from companies able to supply supplemental water, in anticipation of groundwater pumping permits being approved east of IH 35. Hays wanted 25,000 to 50,000 acre feet (8 billion to 16 billion gallons) per year. With permits for groundwater pumping severely reduced by the action of the Lost Pines GCD, the water available to Hays County will likely also be reduced.
It is generally conceded that surface water from area lakes and rivers is already fully committed to end users by the various river authorities. It is not clear what the Hays County Commissioners Court will do in this new reality. So the knight has tied his horse to a cedar tree and is scratching his head along with the rest of us wondering what to do about our looming water shortage.
The current groundwater situation for western Hays County is summarized as follows:The Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) which regulates pumping by water supply companies has agreed to a modeled available groundwater (MAG) pumping of 9,600 acre feet per year (3 billion gallons) for all users, both permitted and exempt, of which 50% is currently pumped by the 6,500 exempt private wells that are not regulated.This pumping rate will cause a 19' average drawdown of the local aquifer over the 50 year planning cycle. Many private wells, area springs such as Jacobs Well, and spring fed rivers such as the Blanco are expected to go dry if this pumping rate is carried out as planned. Because private wells are not regulated by the HTGCD, and with the growth anticipated within western Hays County over the next 50 years, studies show that private wells will consume 95% of the groundwater available for pumping, leaving only 5% available for public water supplies.
A great dilemma exists as to proper management of the area's limited groundwater supply to serve the needs of western Hays County's existing development and anticipated new growth. Because we all live, work, and play in this beautiful part of the Texas Hill Country and want to continue to enjoy the lifestyle that exists today, we must find strategies that reduce our water problems. First we must recognize that we live on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert and arid conditions are now the norm. In many urban areas 70% of the water consumption is used for outside irrigation. In the Hill Country we must strictly limit water used for outside landscape irrigation, decorative ponds, recreational lakes, and swimming pools. Landscape plans for Hill Country residences and commercial development should use xeriscape design and drought tolerant plant materials. New low-water-use grasses have been developed and are successful in the Hill Country. For homes with adequate roof area, rainwater collection with properly sized storage tanks will provide a reliable and pure source of water for residential use. State and local governments should encourage/require installation of rainwater collection systems on all new home construction. Incentives are needed to convert existing homes to rainwater. Public education programs should be started to show people the great advantages of rainwater. Current State law limits the ability of large buildings to use rainwater as a water supply for the building by requiring very expensive treatment and testing processes, much higher than well water supply. State law should be changed to allow/encourage rainwater use for commercial applications and make it more attractive than using well water.
Large buildings (schools, grocery stores, warehouses, etc) within the Hill Country generate huge quantities of rainwater runoff which, if captured and stored, could be used as a supplement to the groundwater used by local water supply companies without big expensive pipelines. Development regulations within area cities and Hays County should recognize that water availability will be the limiting factor for the future and set regulations accordingly. New subdivisions can be built with planning that limits ground area coverage and preserves open space to allow aquifer recharge. Homes should be built with rainwater collection as the water supply source, not well water. Highly treated wastewater can be used for landscape irrigation.Land owners with larger tracts can dedicate conservation easements to preserve open space, protect endangered species, and enhance aquifer recharge while the owner enjoys a tax benefit.
For the Hill Country to remain viable and for our property to hold its value, there must be water available for our sustenance. Recognizing the limits placed on us and working together, we can find solutions that will support life in the Texas Hill Country for many years into the future.
CARD Steering Committee