Ranchers Look Underground For More Water


Currently, the district permits the pumping of about 87,000 acre-feet per year of groundwater, but only about 18,000 acre-feet is actually pumped. An acre-foot is roughly equal to the amount of water three typical Texas households use in a year.

Zach Holland, the groundwater district’s general manager, said there is enough water available to meet the request. “The reason why this is a contested issue isn’t the availability of water, but what will be the impacts,” he said.

At this point, Holland doesn’t know the exact consequences because the district has yet to analyze them. But residents are worried that the extra pumping could lower the water table, forcing them to dig deeper wells and causing their land to sink, a geological condition known as subsidence.

They have asked that the permit go through a trial-like hearing before state administrative law judges before the district considers approval.

“This is an extreme amount of water to pump,” said Chandler, one of the residents who requested the hearing.

Electro Purification says that the proposed pumping will have no effect on shallow wells nearby and will not cause appreciable, if any, subsidence, according to its permit application. Company officials refused to comment, citing the upcoming hearing.

Ironically, the company is pursuing the water for communities facing new pumping limits in Fort Bend County.

The district, Holland said, has options: It could grant, deny or modify the application, allowing the company to pump less water than it requested.

Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski also has urged state lawmakers to move forward with plans to build the Allens Creek Reservoir in a pocket of low-lying land near Sealy. The lake could satisfy suburban needs without pumping more groundwater, she wrote.

Talk of building a lake began in the early 1970s when Houston Lighting and Power proposed a nearby nuclear power plant, which would need water for cooling.

The nuclear plant was never built, and the Brazos River Authority eventually purchased the property. The city of Houston later signed on as a majority partner.

But Houston, with its water needs met, is in no rush and convinced lawmakers two years ago to push back the deadline for starting construction of the $223 million project from 2018 to 2025.

Ronald Kaiser, a professor of water law at Texas A&M University, said it’s unlikely the lake will be built if there are other options. Water marketers and cities find groundwater attractive because it’s high quality, difficult to pollute and does not evaporate like water in lakes and rivers, he said.

“Building a reservoir is hugely expensive,” he said. “While buying some land and putting a well in the ground is expensive, it is not prohibitive.” Holland, the district general manager, said he has not received any other request the size of Electro Purification’s application, but acknowledges that could change.

“I would not be surprised because of all the growth,” Holland said, “but it will greatly depend on which way this case goes.”

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Posted by on Aug 1st, 2013 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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