Hays Co. OKs agreement with Forestar
Commissioners vote 5-0 to enter contract for 45K acre-feet of water
By Erin Green
Austin Community Newspapers StaffThe latest round of how to balance the needs of conservation versus growth, and rural versus urban, as it pertains to water in Central Texas, played out Tuesday in a Hays County courtroom.
In a unanimous vote during its regular meeting, the Hays County Commissioners Court authorized Hays County Judge Bert Cobb to enter into a water-reservation supply agreement on the county’s behalf with Forestar USA Real Estate Inc.
The county agreed to pay $1 million per year for the next five years in exchange for the water, but Hays County’s attorney Mark Kennedy will be filing the agreement with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office to settle questions of whether the county has the authority to enter into such an agreement.
But why does this matter in Bastrop County? In terms of water conservation versus growth and the future of water usage in Central Texas and potential litigation resulting from these competing interests, Bastrop County is potentially right in the middle of it all.
Bastrop County’s involvement came after Forestar, a real estate development company, approached the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District, asking for a permit to draw 45,000 acre-feet of water from the area the groundwater district monitors in Bastrop and Lee counties. The LPGCD was created by the Texas Legislature to protect the water supply for residents of those counties.
But the LPGCD, on its own and after urging by Bastrop County residents and the Bastrop County Commissioners Court — which issued a resolution in support of the LPGCD — approved Forestar to pump 12,000 acre-feet of water per year, which will ultimately come from the Simsboro portion of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer.
One acre-foot of water — 325,581 gallons — is the volume of water needed to cover one acre of land, one foot deep.
In the meantime, Forestar has been working with Hays County to establish an agreement to purchase the water from Forestar — but for the entire 45,000 acre-feet Forestar originally requested from the LPGCD.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Judge Cobb addressed the issue of “why (this amount of water) and why now,” saying the commissioner’s consideration of the agreement is the culmination of a three-year process with the court to ensure the water-supply needs of Hays County are taken care of, from “the most reliable water source in Central Texas.”
In his remarks, Cobb cited the Texas Water Development Board’s recent survey indicating the Simsboro Aquifer contains some 50 million acre-feet of water, 25 percent of which, according to the board, is easily rechargeable and available for export without harming the aquifer.
“There being more than 11 million exportable acre-feet of water available means the 45,000 acre-feet reserved by Hays County is but a small percentage — 0.04 percent — of the available water in Lee and Bastrop counties,” Cobb said. “We spent a lot of time and effort trying to convince the river authorities to secure more water to Hays County, but they have failed to act in a timely manner. This water reservation represents an insurance policy for Hays County and its citizens.”
Cobb said that given the current drought situation and experts’ views that not enough rain has fallen to relieve the area’s severe drought, it’s time to prepare for a drier future — and remember a drier past, as well, which Cobb recalls from his own childhood.
“Drought is very personal to me and my family because we barely survived the drought of the 1950s,” he said, noting how his own family moved to Central Texas from West Texas during that time and that, if the weather patterns in Texas don’t improve, the area could be looking at another Dust Bowl-like scenario, which residents would need to prepare for. “We must reserve water in the name of Hays County now, before we are forced to buy water from private companies at whatever price they demand. It is my goal to keep water in Hays County.”
But for those watching water-related events in Bastrop and Lee counties, the agreement between Hays County and Forestar still represents a “water grab,” and one that represents, in the words of Michele Gangnes and Linda Curtis of the political action committee Independent Texans, as well as Steve Box of Environmental Stewardship, a “hostile action” against Bastrop and Lee counties.
The people of Hays County aren’t really aware of what is going on in their county, according to Gangnes.
“The problem is, people in Hays County generally don’t know what their county is up to,” Gangnes wrote in an email about the agreement’s approval, in which she also asked what the rush is regarding pushing the agreement through. “When the word gets out more widely that the court is paying through the nose to ‘reserve’ water they don’t need, can’t receive and won’t be able to deliver to residents for years to come, to the tune of at least $1 million per year for the first five years and probably upward from there, we believe the citizens of Hays County will rise up to unseat the court as soon as possible — in the case of Judge Cobb, as early as next year.”
For Box, the rush to get the agreement overseen by Abbott and approved quickly is ammunition for Forestar in a potential suit against the LPGCD, in which the company seeks to get a permit for the remaining 33,000 acre-feet of water it has requested.
“(The LPGCD) only has so much water to allocate and they have to protect that,” Box said.