Trio of bills related to water have Hays County officials, residents on edge

A trio of bills filed in March have Hays County officials and residents concerned about groundwater in the county.

A trio of bills filed in March have Hays County officials and residents concerned about groundwater in the county.

Three bills have been filed in March that Hays County officials fear could threaten groundwater in the county. Although one of the bills has already been abandoned by its author, the other two remain threats, officials said.

Senate Bill 1814 could allow landowners whose property is larger than 1,000 acres to skirt Texas’ water laws, county and state officials said.

John Dupnik, general manager of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, the entity responsible for regulating groundwater in much of north central Hays County, said the bill would allow a property owner to “shop around for the groundwater district that is most beneficial to their interests.”

Specifically, the bill would allow landowners whose property is greater than 1,000 acres and is located within the territory of two groundwater conservation districts to petition to have one of the districts cede its authority over the property within its jurisdiction to the other district. The bill was filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

That is particularly concerning, Dupnik said, because a property located within the jurisdiction of the BSEACD and the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, could petition to have itself removed from the BSEACD and brought entirely into the HTGCD, which, by statute, has less ability to control groundwater pumping than the BSEACD.

Another bill, House Bill 4045, which Dupnik call “much more concerning” than SB 1814, would allow some properties—those consisting of more than 1,000 acres and that are located within the jurisdiction of two groundwater conservation districts—to forego public notices and public hearings before receiving permits from conservation districts to pump groundwater.

Staff members from the office of the bill’s author, Rep. Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio, said Rep. Cortez is no longer working to pass that bill. The decision to abandon the bill was made Tuesday.

A 5,000-acre property west of San Marcos would qualify for the provisions spelled out in the first two bills and is mentioned by name in a third piece of legislation, which was filed Monday.

SB 2254, which was also authored by Sen. Hinojosa, would give the Needmore Municipal Utility District all the powers of a groundwater conservation district. Essentially the Needmore MUD would “self-regulate their own production through groundwater conservation district powers that would be provided to the utility district through the bill,” Dupnik said.

The Needmore MUD aims to “maintain and enhance the economic health and vitality of the territory in the district as a residential community and business center,” according to the legislation that created the district during the 83rd Legislative Session in 2013. To date, the property has been used for agricultural purposes, said Ed McCarthy, an attorney representing the property owners.

“The only people talking about residential development are the fear-mongers,” McCarthy said. “There is no current plan for residential development.”

The owners of the Needmore property have applied to the BSEACD for a permit that would allow it to pump up to 289.08 million gallons of water per year from the aquifer for agricultural purposes. In January that permit application was sent to the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings, which is responsible for conducting hearings for state agencies.

"I guess if the Needmore Ranch fits the characteristics, then I guess the Needmore Ranch could follow the statute," McCarthy said.

McCarthy said he was unfamiliar with SB 2254.

“Our county continues to change, and there are a tremendous amount of opportunities and benefits that come with that change, but there are also liabilities and challenges,” Commissioner Will Conley said. “There used to be a time … where the actions at the legislative level, beyond statewide law and actions, there was not a lot of action, if you will, and interest in the geographic area of Hays County. Those things have changed.”

On Tuesday the Hays County Commissioners Court approved a contract with Davis Kaufman PLLC, a Wimberley-based law firm to monitor legislation that could potentially affect Hays County. County officials said they are hopeful the firm will help them fight bills filed in March that could threaten Western Hays County’s groundwater.

In approving the agreement with Davis Kaufman PLLC for legislative monitoring services, Hays County Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe seemingly referenced Hinojosa and Cortez’s bills, calling into question why legislators from outside Hays County are writing bills that directly affect the county.

“It really amazes me that we have legislators that are not associated with this area that are way in the Valley or West Texas that get involved in Hays County’s efforts and dealings or water or issues that wouldn’t ordinarily pertain to them,” Ingalsbe said. “It really amazes me that we’re having to do this. Unfortunately … the times have changed.”

Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who in 2015 filed legislation to bring an unregulated area of Hays County under the control of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, issued a news release Tuesday condemning legislation to undo the 2015 bill. A representative from Isaac’s office said the release was specifically in reference to SB 1814 and HB 4045.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that a few of my colleagues are playing games with the citizens of Hays County and attempting to undo the important groundwater protections that were passed last session for their own political gain,” Isaac said in the news release.

Representatives from Sen. Hinojosa's office could not be reached for comment. 
By Brett Thorne
Brett Thorne reported on education, business, economic development and city government in San Marcos, Kyle and Buda from 2012 to 2017. Thorne attended Texas State University in San Marcos, where he graduated in 2010. He joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in 2012 and was promoted to editor in 2013.


Protesters march from the state Capitol in downtown Austin on May 31. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Mayor of San Marcos, school districts respond to death of George Floyd

As protests spark around the world to demand justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others who have died in police custody, San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson, San Marcos CISD Superintendent Michael Cardona and Hays CISD Superintendent Eric Wright issued statements earlier this week addressing their stances on the matter.

SNAP, a federal program overseen in Texas by the HHSC, assists around 1.4 million eligible low-income individuals and families statewide. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Emergency SNAP food benefits extended in Texas during COVID-19 pandemic

SNAP assists around 1.4 million eligible low-income individuals and families in Texas.

The new storage location will be at 250 Riverwalk Drive, San Marcos. (Courtesy Guard Dog Storage)
Guard Dog Storage coming soon to San Marcos

The storage facility features drive-up storage access, standard and air-conditioned storage.

Mano Amiga will host a call for action at the Hays County Historic Courthouse at 3 p.m. June 6. (Christopher Neely)
Hays County activists seek reinvestment of policing funds, call a rally for action

Mano Amiga, a local grassroots organization in Hays County pushing for criminal justice reform, seeks to open a dialogue about how to better invest tax dollars allocated to law enforcement.

CMS also unveiled an interactive map that lets users search any nursing home in the U.S. to see its COVID-19 cases. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
CMS reports 321 coronavirus deaths in Texas nursing homes, nearly 32,000 nationwide

CMS also unveiled an interactive map that lets users search any nursing home in the U.S. to its COVID-19 cases.

Hays County cases are up four from June 3. (Community Impact staff)
Hays County has 4 new coronavirus cases on 13 tests reported June 4

Kyle has had more than 200 cases; San Marcos nearing 100 positive tests

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase 3 of his Open Texas plan June 3. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gov. Greg Abbott's June 3 guidelines allow most Texas businesses to operate at 50% capacity

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continues to lift coronavirus-related business restrictions.

The shop specializing in daiquiris is located at 1617 Aquarena Springs, San Marcos. (Courtesy Longhorn Daiquiris)
Longhorn Daiquiris now open on Aquarena Springs in San Marcos

Longhorn Daiquiris, a Kyle-born daiquiri and wing shop, opened on May 31 at 1617 Aquarena Springs, San Marcos.

Buda businesses who did not receive funds from the Still Budaful fund may apply for Still Budaful 2.0. (John Cox/Community Impact Newspaper)
Still Budaful 2.0 kicks off with $250K for Buda businesses

Program applications are open for Buda businesses until June 10.

Volunteers get ready to load cars with food May 30. (Courtesy city of Kyle)
Central Texas Food Bank event serves nearly 1,500 families from Kyle area

The next area food distribution by the Central Texas Food Bank will be June 18.

Legendary baseball player Nolan Ryan has long enjoyed ranching. Now, he and his team are preparing to open a butcher shop in Round Rock to showcase Goodstock, Nolan Ryan Beef and other Texas-made products. (Photo courtesy Nolan Ryan)
Nolan Ryan to open Round Rock butcher shop and 20 other Central Texas business updates to know

Read the latest news on Central Texas businesses from Community Impact Newspaper's latest coverage.

Census reinstates some field operations in Texas following coronavirus delay. (Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)
Census reinstates some field operations in Texas following coronavirus delay

Operations began in Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio beginning May 25.