In 2015, a private groundwater developer, Electro Purification (“EP”) sought to pump almost 6,000 acre feet a year from the Trinity Aquifer in Hays County near Driftwood and Wimberley, Texas to pipe to growing communities along the I-35 corridor. The project was was highly controversial because the area where EP proposed to withdraw groundwater was not regulated by a groundwater conservation district and no limitations existed on how much EP could pump.
In portions of Hays County, the Trinity Aquifer underlays the Edwards Aquifer, and while the Edwards Aquifer Authority (“EAA”) has jurisdiction over the Edwards Aquifer, it does not have the authority to regulate the Trinity. In 2015, the two other groundwater conservation districts in Hays County which manage the Trinity Aquifer, the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District ("HTGCD") and the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (“BSEACD”), did not have jurisdiction over the Trinity Aquifer in the areas where the EAA regulates the Edwards Aquifer. The result was that at the outset of the EP project, the Trinity Aquifer beneath the Edwards was unregulated and subject only to the rule of capture, which prevents landowners from suing each other when groundwater pumping from one property dries up neighboring wells.
The EP well field is in the immediate vicinity of hundreds of domestic wells providing the sole source of water supply to homes in the area. In 2015, most of the community was unaware that the Trinity beneath their land was unregulated, as the gap in regulation could not be ascertained from a two dimensional map. Fearing that the significant amount of groundwater the project sought to pump would dry up nearby wells and springs, the local community galvanized behind a movement to stop the project or to include the area in a groundwater conservation district. Locals took legal action and lobbied for the passage of House Bill 3405, which ultimately extended the jurisdiction of BSEACD over unregulated areas of the Trinity Aquifer in this part of Hays County. TESPA filed a lawsuit against EP and the landowners who leased their groundwater rights to EP arguing that the courts should overturn the rule of capture. Ultimately, we dismissed our lawsuit when HB 3405 passed and extended the jurisdiction of BSEACD over this unregulated area.
There are many reasons why the EP project was so controversial – from the community’s revelation that the Trinity was unprotected, to the audacity of the private water developers who targeted the Trinity as a water supply source in the first place, as hydrogeologists have never considered the Trinity to be a prolific aquifer. Perhaps the main reason why the project was so infamous, however, is that it exposed the conflicts that are caused not just by a lack of groundwater regulation, but by a lack of regulation during this new era – where declining aquifers in rural areas of the state are facing extreme pressures from a growing urban demand for water.
After passage of House Bill 3405, BSEACD adopted new rules implementing the law and modifying the process the District uses for evaluating permits. EP has applied for a groundwater production permit under these new rules. Click here for more information about the current permit application.