Ouija boards, water planning, and 30-foot sucking sounds

Dig In! Thirty feet of groundwater: must sell!

Greg Harman

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BOERNE â?? If the Texas Water Development Board accepts the recommendations of regional water planners, area groundwater supplies from Bee Cave to western Bandera County will be expected to decline by 30 feet in the coming decades. Only one member of the Groundwater Management Area 9 â?? Bandera County â?? objected to the amount.

Though they don't want to see any more groundwater loss, Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District board members had been hoping to hold the line at 10 feet of aquifer drawdown in the Trinity and Edwards aquifers in the 8-1 vote held in Boerne on Monday. (The vote does not cover the portion of the Edwards Aquifer managed by the Edwards Aquifer Authority.)

“You've got to balance what you think sustainability is with growth,” said Dave Mauk, assistant general manager of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District, told the Current. “At the same time you have to manage your resources, and water is the most important one we have.”

Although things have slowed down in the past couple years, Bandera County's population doubled from 10,000 in 1988 to more than 20,000 in 2008. “There's plenty of water, but there's too many people,” Mauk said. “That's the problem with every place. Yeah, there's water, but the population growth.”

Next door, in Kendall County, the pace has been even greater, rising from 14,000 in 1990 to an estimated 34,000 last year. The Texas Water Development Board expects to see 100,000 residents in Kendall County by 2060.

Micah Voulgaris, general manager of the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District, said he would love to reign in water use by setting the drawdown at a lesser figure, however many water-intensive businesses in Kendall County haven't bothered to get permitted through the 10-year-old Cow Creek. When factored in, these existing users required him to vote along with the 30-foot drawdown number. A 20-foot drawdown wouldn't have covered them.

“There are still businesses and irrigators and stuff out in the district who don't have a permit. It's their own fault they don't have those permits, but for us to adopt a 20 foot drawdown, basically those people would never get a permit and we'd have to take water back from people who are already permitted,” Voulgaris said.

The vote will likely reduce the Edwards Aquifer in Kendall County by two-and-a-half feet, Voulgari said. Springs from the Edwards west of Boerne form the headwaters of Cibolo Creek, which in turn contributes to the recharge of the Edwards Aquifer beneath Bexar County, which supplies the vast amount of San Antonio's drinking water.

And yet all it would take is a few years of monster drought to shut down business. “If we get seven years without rain most of the wells in this county will probably be dry,” he said.

For lack of a Ouija Board, Jorge Gonzalez, veep of the Trinity Glen Rose Groundwater Conservation District in Bexar County, went along with the vote. “I feel butterflies in my stomach to make some decisions because who knows what's going to happen?” Gonzalez said.

If Gonzalez or any of the GAM-9 members had been paying attention, they'd know that those figurative seven years are right around the metaphorical corner. Natural climate patterns are already returning the American West to a drier state, and global climate change is expected to add as many as seven degrees to average temps this century.

Yet despite the wealth of climate forecasts that have been coming out of places like the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, and the like, the TWDB and regional water districts are only starting to try to factor them into their plans, Voulgaris said.

Meanwhile, lone objector Mauk had his finger on another pulse: energy.

“How much is gasoline going to be? Are we still going to be on oil? And if we are on petroleum products, is gas going to be $6 a gallon? In which case, nobody is going to be commuting anywhere of any distance,” he said.

While predictions about the convergence of a coming energy crunch with climate change may make many of the water votes irrelevant before their time, a caveat: 30-feet of drawdown is not zero-to-30-feet of drawdown.

Ron Feisler of the Blanco-Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District, who led the meeting, said “to the extent possible” districts are supposed to permit the full amount approved. While the numbers may be adjusted in five years, it appears those 30 feet may be accounted for quickly.

Also, Kerr County will soon have unlimited access to the shallow portions of the Edwards Aquifer, which by unanimous vote of GMA-9 members was declared “insignificant” on Monday. The resolution will not carry over to Kendall County, however, where the aquifer is known as the major source of Cibolo Creek.

Voulgaris expressed sympathy for the water planners who will come behind this group. “This next planning cycle, 100 years out, you're not going to be sustainable with 100,000 people on groundwater out here,” he said. “They'd have to have some major water projects, major lifestyle and cultural changes as to how people water and how people use water.”

GMA-9 covers the counties of Kerr, Medina, Travis, Comal, Hays, Kendall, Blanco, Bexar, and Bandera.

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