Aquifers seen as cleanest, closest
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.