Aquifers seen as clean­est, clos­est

Water

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - PHO­TOS by Jay Jan­ner / amer­i­can-states­man Water

cur­rent water port­fo­lio couldn’t sup­port any new res­i­dents by about 2026. That was a driv­ing force in its sup­port for se­cur­ing ground­wa­ter rights.

“We wouldn’t be out of water,” Earp said. “But the next per­son want­ing to come in and con­nect to the sys­tem would have to be told no.”

With nearly all the water in lakes and rivers now as­signed to power some fac­tory, slake the thirst of some city, or keep up the health of some aquatic plant, water providers are turn­ing to un­der­ground water to meet their fu­ture needs.

Sev­eral plans to move ground­wa­ter across county lines have fallen apart, but oth­ers are coming to­gether to re­place them, though most are years down the road. Still other projects are al­ready on­line but, while wait­ing for devel­op­ment to take place along new high­ways, are pump­ing only a frac­tion of what their per­mits al­low.

Ground­wa­ter is a top choice to meet fu­ture water plans in Cen­tral Texas be­cause it is “not fully uti­lized and in many cir­cum­stances it’s the clean­est, clos­est water re­source avail­able,” Cul­lick said.

But ground­wa­ter also has its chal­lenges: Trans­port­ing it can cost mil­lions of dol­lars in pipes and per­mit­ting. And it can re­quire its own water treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties, since its min­eral com­po­si­tion can dif­fer from river water. Its pump­ing is reg­u­lated by a patch­work of po­lit­i­cal fief­doms known as ground­wa­ter dis­tricts that oc­ca­sion­ally op­er­ate in con­flict with prop­erty own­ers who claim wide rights to pump and sell water be­neath their land.

“The le­gal and leg­isla­tive foun­da­tion for us­ing ground­wa­ter, and buy­ing and sell­ing it, are not at all cer­tain,” Cul­lick said.

That un­cer­tainty isn’t dis­suad­ing water providers.

The Hays Cald­well Pub­lic Util­ity Agency voted unan­i­mously late last month to se­cure the nec­es­sary per­mits to pro­duce and trans­port up to 10,300 acre-feet of water per year from east­ern Cald­well County. The water comes from the Car­rizo-Wilcox Aquifer, a ma­jor aquifer stretch­ing from the Louisiana bor­der to the bor­der of Mex­ico.

Though the agency doesn’t an­tic­i­pate need­ing to tap the new sup­ply for 10 to 15 years, it has al­ready sunk $7 mil­lion into the project, in­clud­ing paying more than $2.5 mil­lion to more than 60 landown­ers in Cald­well County to lease their water rights.

The Hays Cald­well agency was formed in 2007 by San Mar­cos, Kyle, Buda and the Canyon Re­gional Water Author­ity, which rep­re­sents area water sup­ply cor­pora- tions, to seek a re­gional so­lu­tion to the area’s grow­ing water needs.

The agency is gen­er­ally paying landown­ers roy­alty rates of $100 per acre-foot per year for water they aren’t now pump­ing, said Gra­ham Moore, who is act­ing as the util­ity agency’s gen­eral man­ager. An acre­foot of water is roughly equal to the amount three av­er­age Austin house­holds use a year.

“In Cen­tral Texas, cities have made a con­certed ef­fort to get their long- term water sup­ply lined up so they can say to de­vel­op­ers and dif­fer­ent groups coming to them, ‘Yes, we have water for you,’ ” Moore said.

The agency still needs to se­cure rights-of-way be­fore start­ing con­struc­tion on the planned pipe­line, which is es­ti­mated to cost more than $100 mil­lion.

It’s a project Moore said the agency has been de­vel­op­ing since be­fore the Guadalupe-Blanco River Author­ity sought in 2010 to en­gi­neer a deal that would sup­ply Hays County providers while also send­ing more than 71 mil­lion gal­lons of water a day to San An­to­nio. A spokes­woman for the author­ity, which serves Buda, Kyle, San Mar­cos, Lock­hart and Lul­ing, said that deal fell through but that new ef­forts are un­der way to pipe ground­wa­ter from the Car­rizo-Wilcox Aquifer for fu­ture growth along the Texas 130 and In­ter­state 35 cor­ri­dors.

Greg Sen­gel­mann, gen­eral man­ager for the Gon­za­les County Un­der­ground Water Con­ser­va­tion District, which is the author­ity per­mit­ting the Hays Cald­well project, said there was “a lot of

Water pumped from the Car­rizo-Wilcox Aquifer is treated Wed­nes­day at the Canyon Re­gional Water Author­ity’s Wells Ranch Water Treat­ment Plant near Leesville.

This tank at Canyon Re­gional’s Wells Ranch Water Treat­ment Plant can hold 1 mil­lion gal­lons of water drawn from the Car­rizo-Wilcox Aquifer.

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