Texas Completes Key Groundwater Planning Step

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Windmill at Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge pumping water from the Ogallala Aquifer.
Windmill at Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge pumping water from the Ogallala Aquifer.

An intensive process to plan out the maximum depletion of aquifers over the next half-century has been completed just ahead of the Sept. 1 deadline.

"It's done," said Robert Mace, the deputy executive administrator of the Texas Water Development Board, the state's water development planning group, in an interview Monday afternoon. He had just received word that the last of the state's groundwater management areas had adopted 50-year plans.

But for Mace and his agency the groundwater-planning process — a new thing, mandated by the Legislature in 2005 — is not nearly done. Over the next six months, they will study the paperwork from the management areas around Texas and confirm that the 50-year goals, called "desired future conditions," are physically possible. The board will then send back information to regional planners about how much water they can draw annually from the aquifers around Texas to meet 50-year goals. Local officials then may adjust their water-use permitting requirements for cities and farmers based on those amounts.

The process may be slowed by legal wrangling, however. In Hemphill County, in the Panhandle, Mesa Water, a company of T. Boone Pickens, has already filed a lawsuit naming the Texas Water Development Board; it argues that the 50-year aquifer levels sought for Hemphill County — its plan calls for preserving at least 80 percent of today's water levels by that time, more than in neighboring counties — would devalue the water rights it has bought in the area. Mesa Water hopes eventually to sell water to thirsty cities like Dallas.

Other challenges have been filed in Hill Country, in relation to water rights in the Edwards part of the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer, Mace said. Planners there want their aquifer to be at the same level 50 years from now as it is today; so do officials in Cooke County, over the Woodbine Aquifer, as well as those in a number of other parts of the state. More legal challenges could be filed.

 

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