UPDATED: March 9, 12:34 p.m.
The Aquifer Conservation Alliance withdrew its petition to Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District to annex a large portion of Williamson County into its jurisdiction March 9.
The ACA has been pushing for increased protections and conservation efforts of the Trinity Aquifer by establishing a groundwater conservation district in Williamson County, or joining an adjacent district that would help oversee the use of the region’s underground water resources.
Three public hearings were scheduled in March to discuss with area residents how joining the Clearwater UWCD based out of Bell County might affect Williamson County.
ACA leaders indicated Clearwater UWCD would be willing to accept the petition to annex a portion of the county, at which point voters would be left to decide on the matter.
However, the ACA stated in a press release it withdrew its petition due to circumstances beyond the control of either organization.
ACA President Keith Elliston said “political pressures at play” are preventing the group from moving forward with its original plan.
“We’re not stopping the pursuit,” he said. “Aquifer Conservation Alliance is evaluating additional paths forward and will not stop their effort until either a groundwater district is formed or the voters get a chance to speak on it at the ballot box. My commitment to Williamson County is to put this issue on the ballot or have the state take action.”
POSTED: March 9, 10:12 a.m.
An area advocacy group is pushing for a portion of Williamson County to be annexed into a groundwater conservation district based in Bell County, but county officials are hesitant to cede control to a neighboring entity.
The Aquifer Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit formed by Williamson County residents, petitioned the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District to annex the western half of the county to manage the region’s use of the Trinity Aquifer and regulate the drilling of wells.
Groundwater conservation districts are political subdivisions of the state, meant to protect underground water resources by controlling and preventing groundwater waste.
The ACA said this mechanism is necessary to mitigate the ongoing depletion of the Trinity Aquifer, and 106 residents signed the petition to the CUWCD, higher than the 50-signature threshold needed for Clearwater to consider the annexation.
However, it took some convincing for ACA President Keith Elliston to get on board as he initially could not support a government entity telling him what he could do with his well.
“I moved out to land so that I could have the water that I wanted and I didn’t have to answer to anybody,” he said. “Then I started to learn that it’s not about telling somebody who can have water and who can’t; it’s about letting you have as much water as you can without someone else being able to come out and take your water.”
The area has an increasing number of wells pumping water from the Trinity Aquifer. According to data compiled by the CUWCD, 576 new wells within Williamson County were drilled into the Trinity Aquifer between 2017-21.
Should a portion of Williamson County be annexed into the GCD, state law would require all wells to be registered with the CUWCD. Some of those wells would require a permit. Domestic wells and livestock wells that produce less than 25,000 gallons of water per day, though, would be exempt from permits.
CUWCD General Manager Dirk Aaron said wells not exempt from permits include those for sand and gravel mines, concrete plants, cities, municipalities, retail public entities and small businesses that use groundwater. However, those wells already in place would go through an historic use permitting process, be given a meter and report production.
Groundwater conservation districts are taxing entities. For fiscal year 2023, the CUWCD’s adopted tax rate for maintenance and operations is $0.002708 per $100 property valuation, or $2.71 per year per $100,000 home valuation. The district has also never adopted a debt service tax rate.
Williamson County officials have pushed back on the GCD, though.
Members of the Williamson County Commissioners Court discussed working with the state Legislature to find other ways to regulate groundwater in addition to hiring an expert to evaluate groundwater sufficiency reports submitted by developers.
Precinct 2 County Commissioner Cynthia Long said implementing rules to allow the county to oversee new business developments could resolve “the vast majority” of concerns among residents who signed the petition.
“I can’t support something that is this all encompassing and this big, ceding control of the county to another county,” she said.
The CUWCD board has received the petition to annex the land and will hold three public hearings on the matter in March. The board will then vote on whether to accept the petition.
Elliston said he expects CUWCD to accept the petition. Then, the GCD would call for a confirmation election, allowing Williamson County residents within the proposed territory to vote on whether to become part of the district. Since the deadline to call for a May vote has passed, Elliston foresees an election to be called for November.