Controversy Over Trinity Aquifer

todayMarch 24, 2015 13

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by Chelsea Seifert

Aquifer illustration by John Le
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    Controversy Over Trinity Aquifer

The Trinity Aquifer in Hays County is a topic of controversy as a new plan is being developed that would result in daily pumping of 5 million gallons of water.

The aquifer covers an area of about 41,000 square miles that ranges from Central Texas to southeastern Oklahoma, providing water for many small towns and cities.

Electro Purification, a Houston-based company that specializes in water treatment, plans to pump the water from the aquifer and sell it to the developing Hill Country, such as Buda and Niederwald.

This large-scale project has no foreseeable start date but has many concerned since the wells from which Electro Purification will pump are in unregulated and ungoverned areas of the aquifer.

At this time, the only criterion that controls the pumping is an age-old law, the rule of capture. According to a Texas water law, this rule grants landowners the right to pump and capture whatever water is available, regardless of the effects on neighboring wells. The rule of capture was adopted in 1904 during the landmark Texas Supreme Court case, Houston & Texas Central Railroad Co. v East.

Precinct 3 Hays County Commissioner Will Conley said since a specific district does not govern that area of the Trinity Aquifer and no rules are in place, efforts are being made to create more strict regulations.

”We are doing everything we can and fortunate that we are in a legislative session to create the proper oversight permitting a regulatory environment over this area which we call ‘white zones’ to ensure that there are proper management of our aquifer resources,” Conley said.

Conley said the priorities of his and other offices are to work with surrounding cities, school districts and political subdivisions of the county to collaborate with state officials to make sure legislation gets written and passed in support of this effort.

Electro Purification will not initially start pumping 5 million gallons from the Aquifer when the project begins. Senior hydrologist for the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Brian Hunt said that over the course of five to six years, there will be a gradual increase of the amount of water being pumped until 5 million gallons is reached.

With such substantial amounts of water being removed, the effects can have a great impact on the residents in adjacent areas.

Hunt and Conley both agree the short-term effects will be the most obvious. Residents may experience well interference and water drawdown.

“The water levels are below or at peoples pumps so when they turn on their pumps, they basically start pumping air,” Hunt said.

Hunt said when pumping is done the water and pressure around that well drops. With one well right next to another, it can have a lower water level than it would before it started pumping itself. Hunt said the long-term effects will be regional and will consist of results from the significant pumping.

Other hydrogeologists including Hunt are going to coordinate with Electro Purification by conducting an aquifer-pumping test in order to understand the potential implications of the unregulated pumping.

Hunt said this will include putting stress on the aquifer by pumping and measuring what the response will be.

“From that we can understand what the acute issues are, but we can also make some calculations to help us assess future impacts over a longer amount of time,” Hunt said.

With a decline of water overtime, and the addition of droughts, the Trinity is a stressed aquifer. When the water levels drop to a certain level, options available to residents who rely on the aquifer are limited.

Conley said Hays County residents may have to drill their own wells deeper down into the Trinity or the county would have to place an emergency status and coordinate with other partners to sustain water supply in those areas.

Additionally, Hunt said with relatively low amounts of recharge, residents may have to invest in storage tanks where they could store water brought to them by delivery trucks.

According to The Edwards Aquifer Website, the Trinity Aquifer recharges very slowly with only 4 to 5 percent of rainfall recharging the aquifer. Unlike the Edwards, water moves at a much slower pace through the Trinity as well.

Although the aquifer will take a big hit in the near future and recharge is slow, Hunt said the aquifer will always have water.

“It’s hard to say that the aquifer will go dry,” Hunt said. “You can’t really physically remove all the water, but it can effectively be dry for all intents and purposes.”

Although there are currently no laws dictating the pumping that will be done by Electro Purification, efforts are being made to enact legislation that will provide regulations for the future.

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