2010-12-23 / General Stories

Can State Water Planning Work?

by Joe P. Cooper, Lost Pines Ground Water District

Texas is a state where water planning is critical. The reasons it requires good long term water planning is simple; the state is large, its population is growing rapidly, the disparity of average rainfall across the state ranges from 10” out West and up to 55” in East Texas. Additionally not all of the state is underlain with prolific fresh water baring aquifers, nor does it have rivers conveniently located for every water user’s needs. The rivers in Texas are managed by large water rights holders, such as River Authorities, and the planning of water usage is prepared in conjunction with the Texas Water Development Board. The surface water planning and management of rivers is as complex and unpredictable as the ever changing weather. As for new surface water supplies, there are no new rivers planned and only a few main channel reservoirs. Presently surface water supplies do not appear to be a long term solution.

Groundwater has been around for millions of years and has been considered to be the answer to water supply problems for the future and it could be, if properly managed. The aquifers that we will rely on for the next 50 to 100 years were once thought of as being an inexhaustible supply. We have learned a lot since the early 1900s; aquifers have a finite amount of water, a diminishing rate of recharge and an ever growing population demanding more water for more uses each and every day. Water conservation is an important management strategy but it’s doubtful that it will serve as the ultimate answer. An individual’s direct use of water is about 50 gallons per day but the indirect use is as much as 4 to 5 times that amount when use and consumption of manufactured goods is considered. The groundwater that has been stored in the aquifers for millennia no longer waits; it’s being use at a rapidly increasing rate. Most of the aquifers in Texas are now described as being either moderately utilized or stressed.

We in Lee and Bastrop counties are fortunate to have a sufficient long term supply of both ground and surface water (if needed). To our northeast, Milam, Burleson, Brazos and Robertson have good supplies of groundwater from the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer group. Within the aquifer group is the Simsboro sand, a water baring sand capable of high volume production of good quality water. Because of the Simsboro and the proximity of Lee and Bastrop counties to Region L (San Antonio and the South Central Texas growth corridor) we become unfortunate due to a plan to develop groundwater in our area to supply perceived shortages within Region L. This plan called the Simsboro Project by the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority (GBRA) and the Region L Planning Group seeks as much as 56,000 acre feet of water per year from our District. The plan of Region L GBRA proposes to create an overdraft condition to the aquifers in Region K LCRA.

Within the conflicting regional plans it is evident that while Region L is requesting groundwater from our counties that could cause excessive drawdowns of aquifer levels their drawdowns remain minimal. Comments from the Lost Pines GCD regarding this overdraft of the Simsboro aquifer and the potential conflict with the Region K plan were submitted to Region L and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). Disregarding the official comments, letters, and meetings the TWDB recently approved the Region L Plan with the Simsboro Project as a “recommended strategy.” This would allow the TWDB to finance the study and construction of the project for GBRA.

The Lost Pines GCD, Lee and Bastrop counties probably could accommodate and permit a portion of the groundwater amount being requested but “all” is doubtful. The District currently has permits pending for over 100,000 acre feet per year from private water marketers. Water marketing is a legitimate business just like leasing the groundwater rights to your property but, without regulation to the amounts pumped it could leave an insufficient local supply to plan on and grow on during the next fifty years. So, does water planning work? Not yet, not with the TWDB supporting and financing projects that disregard our population growth, future local water needs and the ecology of Bastrop and Lee counties. It may be time to let your local and state officials know how you feel about regional and state water planning. The amount of groundwater presently being requested is almost twice the volume identified in the proposed 2011 State Water Plan for Lee and Bastrop Counties.

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