Despite concerns pumping water from an unregulated well field in western Hays County could deplete private well owners' water supply, Buda City Council moved in on a new water source at a Jan. 20 meeting.

The council voted 6-1 to sign a contract with Electro Purification, a Houston-based water supplier seeking to develop a water well field that now has three committed customers and could result in the extraction of as much as 5.35 million gallons of water from the Trinity Aquifer every day.

Several residents in the western half of Hays County, living in communities such as Wimberley and Driftwood, attended the meeting to urge the council not to opt in to the proposed water development project. Hays County Commissioner Will Conley asked the council to delay action until all affected parties could study the effects further.

Mayor Todd Ruge said he understands the plight of residents whose livelihoods depend on drawing from their privately owned wells, and that is why the council negotiated a well mitigation plan as part of the contract.

"It's no secret that the city of Buda needed some water," Ruge said. "I think we did a responsible thing in regard to adding that caveat for the mediation. The other two entities did not have that in theirs. Essentially we provided protection that until tonight wasn't there for those people."

Buda will receive a million gallons of water per day as part of the deal. The city, like many in Hays County, is facing a looming reality of a depleted water supply. According to projections, Buda is on pace to require an additional water source as early as 2017, City Manager Kenneth Williams said. Williams said securing the Electro Purification source, which would become the city's third, would allow it to stave off depletion until 2060.

But those who oppose the development claim the volume of pumping that has been proposed would leave owners of private wells in west Hays County without water eventually. The part of the aquifer in which Electro Purification is drilling wells lacks regulatory oversight. No governmental entity can manage the extraction of water from the well field. Concern has also been raised that the development will have an environmental impact on confluent springs and aquifers.

The city of Buda spent $80,000 for an independent evaluation of the prospective water source. Drew Hardin, an engineer with Lockwood, Andrews & NewnamInc., said middle Trinity Aquifer water is generally of good quality, and the contract with Electro Purification would provide a very affordable water source.

"It's just one of those things you don't take a chance on," Hardin said. "To be conservative and make sure the city has enough water, this is a prudent piece of water to consider."

Councilwoman Angela Kennedy, the sole dissenting vote, disagreed.

"I am just uncomfortable with the city participating in a project of that magnitude that could do that much damage," said Kennedy, a water engineer.

Had the city decided to delay the decision to buy water from Electro Purification, another customer could have stepped in and taken Buda's spot, officials said.

Kennedy said she sees the logic behind the move but needed further expert information before deciding whether to move forward with it.

"Until I see a stamped report from a hydrogeologist, I'm not going to be comfortable that this project isn't going to have negative impacts," she said.

Goforth Special Utility District and a proposed subdivision in an unincorporated area of Mountain City are getting bigger shares of the water than Buda. Williams said the city was actually the first entity in talks with Electro Purification in 2011, but after three years of investigating the project, the other two customers entered the fold.

Earlier on Jan. 20, Hays County Commissioners unanimously voted to form a committee that will have ongoing open meetings to address concerns over the project. The meetings would involve all affected parties. Williams said the city has not received a formal invitation as of yet but is interested in collaborating with the county and stakeholders.

Ruge said he was confident the city diligently researched the project and came out of the meeting with a favorable agreement for all parties.

"I really think what we did gave a measure of protection for [private well owners] that I think in time they're going to say, 'I'm glad that the city of Buda stepped up and did that for us,'" he said.