TESPA Update From Jim Blackburn

Hello friends, supporters and neighbors. The Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA) was formed two years ago in response to a threat to our groundwater near Rolling Oaks and Wimberley posed by Electro Purification’s (EP’s) groundwater development proposal. We filed suit against that project, and we have worked with the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District to achieve the highest level of regulation possible. And we have been successful in several ways.

Today, however, our region is facing more threats to springs, groundwater and surface water than ever before, and TESPA is reorganizing and refocusing to address these threats. We are committed to being a powerful voice for the protection of springs and groundwater of the Hill Country, and we want you to join with us in this effort. And make no mistake about it – we have to work together to help ourselves.

There are three major groundwater concerns on the immediate horizon. These are the Needmore Water, LLC, well application currently pending before the Barton Springs Edward Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD), the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation’s (DSWSC) pending application before the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) and the EP application that will likely be filed with BSEACD in the not-too-distant future. Each of these presents their own challenges and issues as does the opposition to these wells.

At the center of our concern about increased pumping from these wells is the future of our springs as well as the groundwater that provides our rural homeowners with water. Ultimately, we are concerned about the interconnections between groundwater and surface water in our region, and the fact that Texas court-made and statutory law is simply not – in its current form – up to the complex management task needed to protect our future. And if we don’t stand up now and fight for adequate court rulings and policy concepts, we are going to lose the very qualities that lead us to love the Hill Country.

The Needmore proposed withdrawal well is near the Fern Bank Springs which feed the Blanco and have been designated under the federal Endangered Species Act as critical habitat of the Comal Springs Dryopid Beetle. The DSWSC groundwater wells may endanger the springs that give the name to Dripping Springs. And the EP well, among others, threatens Jacobs Well. These and other applications pose a long-term threat to the waters that bring life and joy to the Texas Hill Country.

Not only do these large wells threaten these springs, but they also threaten nearby groundwater wells that will be impacted by these large-scale water-supply withdrawals, groundwater wells depended upon by most of us living in Hays County. Although many groundwater districts do an excellent job of trying to understand and evaluate impacts of new wells on existing springs and water users, they often are forced by statutory structure and concerns about being sued by applicants into allowing damaging permits to be issued. It is here that TESPA plans to act, both to let these entities know that there will be effective opposition pushing for protection of the public interest in our springs as well as attempting to protect our water well users and our current way of life in the Hill Country.

Acting to protect the springs and ground and surface waters that make the Hill Country wonderful is not to be against development. We do, however, want to be sure that we don’t kill the resources that make the Hill Country special in the pursuit and accommodation of development. And there are limits to the impacts that can be absorbed – make no mistake about it.

The Needmore Well

In the near future, BSEACD will issue a notice that they are proposing to issue a groundwater use permit to Needmore Water, LLC, which covers ranchland owned by Greg LaMantia, a prominent behind-the-scenes political force and South Texas Budweiser distributor. Needmore’s application proposes to take one million gallons per day of Trinity Aquifer water from a well not far from Fern Bank Springs. Pump tests have demonstrated significant drawdown as much as two miles away from this well. TESPA intends to request a contested case hearing to oppose this well on several grounds.

HB 3405 created two types of permits when it expanded jurisdiction over the previously unregulated portion of the Trinity Aquifer in Hays County. First, an existing well or a proposed well with outstanding contracts could qualify for a temporary permit. Then, after completion of the application process, this entity would be eligible for a regular permit. However, there were important limits in HB 3405: No contested case hearing was available on temporary permits and regular permits can only be reduced for two reasons – (1) that the permit does not allow the desired future condition (DFC) to be achieved and (2) that the permit does not cause an “unreasonable impact” on existing wells. In this manner, the scope of the contested case hearing (and the BSEACD rules) was significantly limited. Interestingly, prior to HB 3405, the Needmore MUD was restricted from using Trinity Water, but in that same legislative session, Mr. LaMantia managed to get this restriction lifted so that he could qualify for a temporary permit under HB 3405 to use Trinity Aquifer water previously denied to his MUD. Pretty slick.

The DSWSC Wells

Needmore is not the only threat to our springs and wells. As mentioned previously, the DSWSC is proposing wells adjacent to Onion Creek within the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD). There is evidence that the DSWSC proposed well will pump surface water from Onion Creek, water that is vital to flowing springs and seeps in the Dripping Springs area. In the situation surrounding the DSWSC well, a surface water alternative exists for Dripping Springs but groundwater is being pursued because it is cheaper. This application has been noticed and TESPA requested a contested case hearing as soon as we were able. However, rather than immediately go to hearing, the HTGCD has given us until September 21st (the next HTGCD Board meeting) to meet with the applicant and attempt to find common ground.

Long Term Goals

Texas law allows those who seek to develop groundwater to harm springs and creeks in the Hill Country at no cost. Texas law permits them to take our landscape and our heritage and change that which makes the Hill Country great at no cost. There is something wrong with this Texas reality, and it can be and needs to be changed, but it will only be changed by action- action that TESPA is prepared to undertake but can only do with your help.

There are many issues that we hope to address. The seeps and springs of the Hill Country are where the endangered golden-cheeked warbler gets its water. Without them, the future of the species would be jeopardized. This warbler shares usage of our groundwater/surface water interface with endangered beetles and salamanders, yet no comprehensive plan exists to protect these water sources upon which these species depend. Our surface water, a public resource, is fed by these seeps and springs. As that water is taken away, our recreational water base for the Hill Country is removed, affecting the Blanco, the Guadalupe, the San Marcos and the Comal, affecting us all. This in turn affects water supply and ultimately freshwater inflows into San Antonio Bay, the home of the last wild flock of endangered whooping cranes in the world.

The rule of capture is archaic and needs to be overturned. The failure of Texas to legally recognize a linkage between groundwater and surface water would be laughable except that it is true. These shortcomings need to be addressed, and TESPA is organizing and focusing to try to bring these issues to the courts, the agencies and the public.

What You Can Do

There is nothing easy or inexpensive about fighting these battles. We need the help of the community in terms of public support and we need the financial support of those who can afford to pitch in and help. We also need for those of you who are supporters to go the website and become a member. We are getting quite a lot of volunteer assistance, but contested case hearings and the experts that are necessary require money. TESPA has now applied for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. Please go to our website at http://tespatexas.org/ and become a member and make a donation now. We have tried to make it easy for you to donate through PayPal through the TESPA website, and we also accept checks to our post office box which is TESPA, P.O. Box 160971, Austin, TX 78716. We understand that our application will be approved effective February, 2015, so that donations are now tax-deductible, and we will not undertake direct lobbying activities in keeping with IRS regulations.

In closing, I have two important notices about going forward. First, I am pleased to announce that Vanessa Puig-Williams is now TESPA’s Executive Director and General Counsel. We are well represented by her as well as Jeff Mundy, our trial counsel, and I will volunteer my services every now and then. Secondly, I want to announce that Robin Rather of Austin has agreed to join the TESPA board as we move ahead in this broader effort to protect what makes the Hill Country Great. Thanks for all your past support. We will be announcing a public meeting soon to bring forward a more detailed defense plan for our springs and wells.

And in keeping with a tradition on coastal newsletters that I write every now and then, I will end with a Hill Country Poem. And like all of my poems, this one is about a bird of the Hill Country, the yellow-billed cuckoo. Enjoy. Jim Blackburn

The Yellow Billed Cuckoo

Jogging down the Hill Country Road

Alongside Lone Man Creek in the late Spring.

The living things are celebrating today.

The chorus of the trees hums sweetly

As the warm south wind brings a hint of rain

To the cedars and the oaks that cover

The hillside in a two-toned verdant display.

Ahead, from the edge of the dry creek bed

The grey-brown bird with the yellow bill

Sails down from its perch,

Crossing the road in a dipping arch,

Slipping through the trees on the other side

As if they were not there.

And later, sitting on the deck,

The “rain crow” talks to me,

Gurgling from the deep cover along the stream,

Telling me that coastal rain will come tonight,

Reminding me to listen to the symphony,

Of the raindrops and the frogs,

Reminding me to be grateful

That I am alive to see

Life being lived

In the Texas Hill Country.