On Wednesday I wrote a story about billionaire oil tycoon and former GOP gubernatorial nominee Clayton Williams Jr., and the attempt of one of his companies, Fort Stockton Holdings, to mine and export what could be trillions of gallons of water from the Pecos County portion of the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer. Wiliams and the company want to sell the water to communities outside Pecos County — a plan that has the locals worried about their water supply.
I mentioned in the story that I had repeatedly asked to talk to Williams' staff and counsel for the story, but to no avail. After deadline, I finally heard from Robert Rendell, an attorney for Fort Stockton Holdings, who e-mailed details about its permit application being considered by the local granting authority, the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District.
FSH can already pump more than 47,000 acre-feet of water annually from the aquifer for irrigation through a “historic and existing” use permit. A new permit is needed to use the water for other purposes. “Pursuant to the (Texas) Supreme Court’s ruling in Guitar (Guitar Holding Co. LP v. Hudspeth County Underground Water Conservation District) an amendment to the historic and existing use permits would cause the permits to lose their priority and other protections and, possibly subject them to claims of 'forfeiture' by the district." With an application for a new permit, he wrote, "the existing and historic use permits remain intact with all of their protections. The new permit will be stand alone, and will have independent conditions for its use.”
In other words, two permits equals twice as much pumping power. That can’t be welcome news for Fort Stockton. Rendell, however, said there is a mechanism in place to ease some of the community's concerns — and make the permit more appealing to the board. Fort Stockton Holdings would “reduce on a one for one acre-foot basis each year the right to produce water under the historic and existing use permits for each acre-foot of water produced under the new production permit,” he wrote.
No matter how many permits FSH has, the condition would limit is total water extraction to the limits outlined in the original permit.
By the way, Fort Stockton isn't on its own in objecting to what Williams is up to. Communities in South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley have joined the opposition to the plan, alleging it could affect the Rio Grande — the area’s only source of water. "Water is life," Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas said Wednesday. "No one is going to cut our lifeline or take away our natural resources — not from us, or anyone else along the border.” The Laredo city council is considering a formal resolution expressing its displeasure with the plan.
A spokeswoman for Fort Stockton Holdings told me that geological studies prove the proposed water production would not adversely affect the Pecos County or Rio Grande communities. I've been promised copies of those studies, which I've not received; I'll upload them and attach them to this post when they arrive.
On Friday a spokeswoman for Fort Stockton Holdings e-mailed statements from hydrologists addressing the concerns voiced by the Pecos County and Rio Grande Communities. The response is below.
"There is no possible way hydrologically that effects from pumping in the Leon-Belding area (in Pecos County) can be detected in the Rio Grande. The flows in the Rio Grande from Del Rio to Falcon Reservoir south of Laredo are greatly controlled by the operations of Amistad Reservoir. The mean flow of the Rio Grande below Amistad is ten times greater than the mean flow of the Pecos River just upstream from Amistad. Evaporation losses from Amistad likely range between 230,000 and 310,000 acre-feet per year, which is between 317 and 427 cubic feet per second, which is more than the mean flow of the Pecos River just upstream of Amistad."
And about the effect on Fort Stockton's water supply:
"It will not affect the city's ability to provide water to its citizens. Fort Stockton Holding's is asking to use the same amount of water that they are currently permitted to use. Instead of using the water for irrigation as they have done in the past, they are asking to transfer water to surrounding communities. So, the City of Fort Stockton will be able to continue operating their wells as they have since the early 1960s."
Stay tuned. On Monday I will revisit the issue and include the results of several studies forwarded to me by Rafael Castillo, the Fort Stockton City Manager. Those studies, he said, will reaffirm that the city and the Rio Grande community have valid concerns.