Sup­pli­ers will­ing to face tough chal­lenges

Water

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - Con­tin­ued from Con­tact Ciara O’rourke at 512-392-8750; con­tact Asher Price at 445-3643.

op­po­si­tion” to ap­prov­ing the agency’s per­mits, as well as to landown­ers who wanted to lease their water to the agency. Oth­ers wor­ried that there wouldn’t be enough water left for lo­cal landown­ers.

Sen­gel­mann said the district’s board unan­i­mously voted to ap­prove the agency’s per­mits, but only with some con­ces­sions, such as re­quir­ing the agency to pay $309,000 to a fund meant to mit­i­gate the ef­fects of drop­ping water lev­els in district wells, and mon­i­tor­ing water lev­els in four of the 15 wells the agency ex­pects to drill.

Austin, for its part, isn’t in the ground­wa­ter game, thanks to a mas­sive water con­tract signed in 1999 with the Lower Colorado River Author­ity that vir­tu­ally as­sured the city water through 2050.

San An­to­nio is not as well placed. Be­tween the 1960s and 2005, be­cause of po­lit­i­cal forces, money pres­sures and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, the board of the city’s water sys­tem or city vot­ers re­jected sev­eral reser­voir projects or ground­wa­ter deals.

If faced with a drought on par with the one that dev­as­tated Texas in the 1950s, the San An­to­nio Water Sys­tem wouldn’t have enough water by 2017 if it didn’t se­cure any new water sources, said Greg Flores, a spokesman for that water sys­tem.

For about five years, the water sys­tem has pumped up to 6,400 acre feet of water an­nu­ally from the Car­rizo-Wilcox Aquifer, Flores said. A sec­ond project ex­pected to go on­line next year will ul­ti­mately fun­nel up to 17,200 acre-feet of water an­nu­ally from the Car­rizo-Wilcox Aquifer to San An­to­nio, enough for 60,000 homes, Flores said. The water sys­tem has spent 10 years and $100 mil­lion on the plan, among eight rec­om­mended projects in the state’s water plan to trans­port at least 10,000 acrefeet of ground­wa­ter each year at least 25 miles.

Over the past cou­ple of decades, ef­forts to get per­mis­sion to pump and ship ground­wa­ter, by pri­vate in­vestors in Austin or by city-owned util­i­ties, have failed more of­ten than not, usu­ally be­cause water-rich ar­eas guard the re­source jeal­ously.

In the late 1990s, San An­to­nio Water Sys­tem aimed to pipe water from the Rock­dale area, about 60 miles north­east of Austin, from a tract be­long­ing to Al­coa. A com­mu­nity group from Milam County and sur­round­ing coun­ties ral­lied to op­pose the project, which they feared would rob them of their own well water. The project even­tu­ally fell apart as pipe­line costs spi­raled into the tens of mil­lions of dol­lars.

But as the re­source be­comes more valu­able, water sup­pli­ers ap­pear un­daunted.

The Lower Colorado River Author­ity board in Au­gust an­nounced that it is in ne­go­ti­a­tions to buy the 34,000-acre Al­coa tract. The tract’s chief prize: ground­wa­ter po­ten­tial.

In 2011, water sup­ply com­pany Blue­Wa­ter Sys­tems com­pleted con­struc­tion of a 53-mile pipe­line from Burleson County, clear­ing the way for de­liv­er­ies to the city of Manor and a hand­ful of util­ity dis­tricts and water sup­ply cor­po­ra­tions in east­ern Travis County. Blue­Wa­ter pays roughly $1 mil­lion a year for the right to ex­port 70,993 acre-feet; last year the com­pany ex­ported 580 acre-feet.

The water game is about to flow faster. The Lost Pines ground­wa­ter district, which reg­u­lates water in Bas­trop and Lee coun­ties, ended a mora­to­rium in Novem­ber on new ground­wa­ter per­mits. Be­gin­ning in Jan­uary, it will take up per­mit re­quests for more than 100,000 acre-feet, much of it for ex­port to the Texas 130 and I-35 cor­ri­dors, ac­cord­ing to Lost Pines gen­eral man­ager Joe Cooper.

He said the district will likely ap­prove 25 to 50 per­cent of the re­quests, which come from pub­lic util­i­ties such as the LCRA to pri­vate water mar­keters like End-Op and Austin-based Forestar Group Inc.

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