Legislative Update: HPWD offers testimony regarding legislation

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

Attorney’s Fees Legislation

Under current statute, a judge is required to award attorney’s fees to a groundwater conservation district (GCD) when a GCD prevails in litigation.  This stands for both general litigation involving a GCD, as well as GCD enforcement actions.  There are no other provisions under Chapter 36, Texas Water Code, for any other party to  recover their attorney’s fees.  

This month, HPWD offered support for two bills that address this inequity:

House Bill 2125 by Representative Burns removes the court’s requirement to grant attorney’s fees to a GCD, and instead makes the award of attorney’s fees discretionary.  While the original legislation had a cap set at $100,000, the Committee Substitute introduced April 2nd, removes the cap.   HB 2125 does not alter the award of attorney’s fees for enforcement actions. 

Senate Bill 851 by Senator Perry would change the current process to allow the prevailing side to seek attorney’s fees from the court.  It further states that the court may grant reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees in an amount that the court considers is equitable and just, but not to exceed $250,000.  For enforcement actions involving a GCD, SB 851 allows the prevailing side to recover attorney’s fees, but does not include a $250,000 cap.   

While many GCDs in the state do not support these efforts, the HPWD Board of Directors firmly believe this legislation is a good balance for all parties, as it removes some barriers that landowners may encounter when they believe a GCD is not adequately protecting their groundwater.

HPWD provided testimony on SB 851.  The testimony provided by General Counsel Victoria Whitehead can be found at 02:10:50: http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=45&clip_id=14092

Appeals Process Legislation

HPWD offered testimony in opposition to Senator Perry’s Senate Bill 2027.  SB 2027 changes the judicial review process of decisions made by a GCD board from substantial evidence review to trial de novo.

Testimony from HPWD focused on the adequacy of current law for contested matters.  The rights of petitioners are well documented in the existing statute, and also allow for the expertise of the locally elected board members.

Senator Perry concluded the hearing by agreeing to push the matter to an interim discussion rather than pursuing the legislative change. 

The testimony provided by General Counsel Victoria Whitehead can be found at 02:01:00: http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=45&clip_id=14250

National Garden Month: Incorporate native plants into landscapes to save water

April is National Garden Month! Incorporating native plants in your landscape can provide color and save water at the same time.
 
“Native plants have adapted to withstand the Panhandle-South Plains climate. Not only are they accustomed to our dry, hot weather -- but native plants are an important component of our regional ecology. They can help support pollinators and other wildlife,” says Education/Outreach Coordinator Katherine Drury with High Plains Underground Water Conservation District in Lubbock. She is also a Texas Master Gardener.
 
“HPWD would like to share some favorite native plants that are beautiful and have low water requirements,” she said.
 
American Basketflower is a striking Texas native. This beautiful purple wildflower often blooms along roadways in spring. “Basket flower” refers to the straw-colored bracts beneath the flower head. Although it resembles a thistle, it lacks their prickly characteristics.

AMERICAN BASKETFLOWER

AMERICAN BASKETFLOWER

Blackfoot Daisy can be found growing during the driest and hottest of years. Local horticulture experts reportedly found a mound of Blackfoot Daisies during the 2011 drought. These little flowers grow in low mounds and are perfect for flower beds.

BLACKFOOT DAISY

BLACKFOOT DAISY

Chocolate Daisy is native to the southwestern United States and Mexico. Not only is it a beautiful, drought-tolerant perennial, but it actually smells like chocolate!

CHOCOLATE DAISY

CHOCOLATE DAISY


Prairie Coneflower can be found across Texas. It is a quick and aggressive grower that is easily started from seed. If you are growing these in your garden, allow the plants to go to seed after flowering ceases in Autumn. You can then collect the seeds or mow down the stalks.

PRAIRIE CONEFLOWER

PRAIRIE CONEFLOWER

Tahoka Daisy is native to the Texas South Plains. It was first discovered in 1898 at Tahoka Lake. The Tahoka Daisy, also called Prairie Aster, is an annual wildflower that prefers sand or gravel soils in full sun.
 

TAHOKA DAISY

TAHOKA DAISY

“These are just a few of the native plants available for local landscapes.  Homeowners should consider using plants that flourish in high temperatures and low rainfall conditions,” says Drury.

Lawn Irrigation Workshop for domestic well owners held April 13 at Bushland

“Irrigating lawns with domestic water wells can present unique challenges for homeowners in rural areas. It is important to understand irrigation scheduling, fertility, turfgrass varieties, and domestic well maintenance to avoid water quality and quantity issues,” said Dr. Gary Marek with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service at Bushland. 

 Marek was one of four speakers at the April 13 Lawn Irrigation Workshop for Domestic Well owners at the Cornerstone Ranch Event Center in Bushland.

 “One big challenge is that domestic wells generally produce less water (10-15 gallons per minute) than a municipal water supply (25-30 gpm.) In addition, turfgrass areas can be an acre or larger, they have fewer sprinkler heads which means the heads must provide longer throws of water across the area, and homes/buildings are farther apart, which means fewer wind break opportunities. This can increase water losses associated with wind drift and evaporation,” Marek said.

 He added that most lawns are over-irrigated. In general, homeowners should apply more water, less often, to turf areas. This can help reduce evaporation and wind drift losses. It can also prevent turfgrasses from developing shallow root systems.

 “Many homeowners irrigate several times a day every day. We can do a better job of scheduling our irrigation, based upon visual observation, rain gauge data, and use of soil moisture meters and probes,” he said. “This information can provide essential information for sprinkler controller programming.”

 He recommends watering lawns in either late evening or early morning.  However, homeowners may need to schedule this around other water-using activities because of the lower gpm produced by rural domestic water wells.

 Dr. Kevin Heflin started his turf fertility presentation with a simple question: “What is in a bag of fertilizer?” He added that you can ask three people and you will likely get three different answers.  Heflin is an Agronomy Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension at Amarillo.

 “For example, 15-5-10 represents the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in the bag. If the bag weighed 100 pounds, then there would be 15 pounds of nitrogen, 5 pounds of phosphorus, and 10 pounds of potassium,” Heflin said.

 He provided a brief overview of the differences between quick release and slow release fertilizers. Those using “weed and feed” fertilizers should be careful not to use them near flowers and trees.

 Heflin recommended periodic soil testing to determine any nutrient deficiencies. “As an example, an average-size front yard in the Bushland area is 6,000 ft2. It needs 3.9 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 ft2. So, 6 x 3.9 equals an annual rate of 23.4 pounds of nitrogen.  You won’t put this out all at once.  This should be spread out in three applications during the year.  Also, there are several phone apps that can help homeowners with timing and amount of fertilizer applications,” he said.

 He noted that newer housing developments may have problems with their soil. This includes poor drainage, soil compaction from heavy equipment, and use of poor-quality soil to raise the house foundation during construction.  Use of core aerators and applying organic matter to the soil may help remedy these issues.

 Turfgrass selection should be a tool in minimizing water use, according to Dr. Jourdan Bell, Assistant Agronomy Professor with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension at Amarillo.

 “Turfgrass is the largest ‘irrigated crop’ in the United States. Its water use surpasses that of alfalfa and corn. About 25-31 percent of water used by residential customers in Texas is applied to landscapes. Because of this, it is important to select a turfgrass that meets homeowner needs and can survive drought periods,” she said.

 As an example, buffalograss has extreme cold and heat tolerance. It can survive temperatures ranging from -30 degrees to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

 “Fescue is the number one turfgrass used in the northern Panhandle. It’s pretty—but it uses a lot of water. Data from 1992-2008 shows Fescue needs an average of 60 inches of water annually; bermudagrass needs an average of 31 inches from April to October; and buffalograss needs an average of 21 inches from April to September. Selecting a water efficient grass can help reduce the stress on domestic water wells,” Bell said.

 Dr. Jed Moorhead concluded the workshop with an overview of domestic water well maintenance. He is a biological science technician with the USDA-ARS in Bushland.

 “Generally, domestic water wells require little maintenance. However, it is recommended that homeowners conduct a visual inspection of their wells at least once a year. They need to check the well cap, casing, electrical conduit, and the area around the wellhead. It is also recommended to conduct a water quality test annually to make sure there are no contamination issues,” Moorhead said.

 Professional assistance is needed whenever the well is opened, whenever there is a foul odor or taste to the water, whenever the water is cloudy or dirty, and whenever there is a loss of water pressure.

 The workshop was funded by a grant from the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District to the USDA-Agricultural Research Service – in collaboration with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension. Additional funding was provided by the Ogallala Aquifer Program.

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IMG_9221.JPG


Water level measurements indicate average decline of -1.05 feet within HPWD service area in 2018-2019

An average change of -1.05 feet was noted in the groundwater levels of the Ogallala/Edwards-Trinity (High Plains) Aquifer from 2018 to 2019 within the 16-county High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD).
 
The 10-year District average change (2009-2019) is -8.83 feet while the five-year District average change (2014-2019) is -2.13 feet. The average saturated thickness of the Ogallala/Edwards-Trinity (High Plains) Aquifer within the District is 56 feet (2018-2019). It remained unchanged from last year.
 
HPWD staff shared final results of the 2019 water level measurements with the District’s five-member Board of Directors at their April 9 meeting.
 
Beginning in January, HPWD field personnel made water level measurements in a network of 1,356 privately-owned water wells completed into the Ogallala/Edwards-Trinity (High Plains) Aquifer. In addition, measurements were also made in 31 Dockum Aquifer wells.
 
County wide average declines were recorded in 15 of the 16 counties in the District since the 2018 measurements.
 
“This can probably be attributed to the fact that the area received about half the rainfall in 2018 as it did in 2017. A large amount of irrigation was needed up until the time that it rained toward the end of the growing season,” said HPWD Field Technician Supervisor Keith Whitworth.
 
Whitworth shared the following statistics for observation wells with publishable measurements.

  • 234 observation wells with increases ranging from 0.1 to 5.41 feet.

  • 518 observation wells with decreases ranging from 0 to -.99 of a foot.

  • 279 observation wells with decreases ranging from – 1 to -1.99 feet.

  • 173 observation wells with decreases ranging from -2 to -2.99 feet.

  • 58 observation wells with decreases ranging from -3 to -3.99 feet.

  • 26 observation wells with decreases ranging from -4 to -4.99 feet.

  • 29 observation wells with decreases ranging from -5 to -12.98 feet.  

“Each year, there are wells that show water level rises and others that show water level declines. The largest water level rise was 5.41 feet in a Lynn County well and the largest water level decline was -12.98 feet in a Floyd County well,” Whitworth said. “Groundwater recharge occurs quickly in Lynn County due to sandier soils and a shallow water table. The area in Floyd County where the large decline is shown takes much longer to recover from the previous irrigation season,” he said.
 
Results of the 2019 water level measurements and updated saturated thickness information are now available on the interactive map on the HPWD website (map.hpwd.org).  Those who want printed information should contact Jed Leibbrandt at (806) 762-0181 or email him at jed.leibbrandt@hpwd.org. He can provide print copies of water level measurement data for an individual county or specific counties of interest.

2019 WLM Summary-01.jpg
2019 WLM Summary-02.jpg

Annual irrigation system inspection can save water

April is National Garden Month! Longer days and warmer temperatures are prompting many area residents to prepare their home gardens and landscapes for the 2019 growing season. It’s also the perfect time to add practices to avoid inefficient watering and/or water waste this spring and summer.

 “Outdoor water use can account for 50 to 80 percent of home water use in the spring and summer,” said Information/Education Supervisor Carmon McCain with High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD). “Because of this, area residents are encouraged to examine their automatic sprinkler systems and repair them as needed to achieve optimum performance this year,” he said.

 Even the best-designed irrigation system will show signs of wear and tear over time. An annual irrigation system inspection can help save water that may otherwise be wasted. 

 Homeowners should watch their automatic sprinkler system as it operates. Sunken sprinkler heads should pop up easily without being obstructed by vegetation.  They should be adjusted to make sure water is not applied to streets, sidewalks, driveways, or other surfaces that allow runoff. Sprinklers should throw a large drop of water -- instead of a fine mist. This reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation and wind drift. Be sure to replace any sprinkler heads damaged by mowing--as well as any broken valves, seals or pipes.

Make sure your irrigation system does not apply water to streets, sidewalks, driveways or other surfaces that allow runoff.

Make sure your irrigation system does not apply water to streets, sidewalks, driveways or other surfaces that allow runoff.

 McCain said it is important to know how much water is being applied by an irrigation system during a given time period. Setting empty cat food/tuna cans or other shallow containers on the lawn is an easy method that homeowners can use to gauge the amount of water their sprinkler applies to the turf.  Once the containers are in place, be sure to note the amount of time it takes to deliver one-half inch of water to the lawn. This determines how long to operate the system to deliver the needed amount of water to the landscape.

 This technique is demonstrated in a Texas A&M AgriLife Research/Extension YouTube video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nIwZ_imn9w

 In many instances, irrigation system controllers are initially programmed and then forgotten. Adjusting automatic sprinkler systems in response to changing climatic conditions can help reduce water waste and save money for homeowners and businesses.  HPWD encourages persons to contact their local landscaping professional or landscape irrigation specialist for instructions on adjusting controller settings.

 When irrigating your lawn this spring and summer, please be aware of and comply with landscape watering ordinances your town or city may have in place.

 “With planning and implementation of proven water conservation methods, homeowners can have a beautiful landscape that conserves the surface and ground water resources of the Texas High Plains,” McCain said.

Schedule irrigation systems to run in the early morning hours to avoid evaporation and wind drift.

Schedule irrigation systems to run in the early morning hours to avoid evaporation and wind drift.

Legislative Update: HB 2125 & SB 851 testimony

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

Under current statute, a judge is required to award attorney’s fees to a groundwater conservation district (GCD) when a GCD prevails in litigation.  This stands for both general litigation involving a GCD, as well as GCD enforcement actions.  There are no other provisions under Chapter 36, Texas Water Code, for any other party to recover their attorney’s fees.   

 This week, HPWD offered support for two bills that address this inequity:

  • House Bill 2125 by Representative Burns removes the court’s requirement to grant attorney’s fees to a GCD, and instead makes the award of attorney’s fees discretionary.  While the original legislation had a cap set at $100,000, the Committee Substitute introduced April 2nd, removes the cap.   HB 2125 does not alter the award of attorney’s fees for enforcement actions.

  • Senate Bill 851 by Senator Perry would change the current process and allow the prevailing side to seek attorney’s fees from the court.  It further states that the court may grant reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees in an amount that the court considers is equitable and just, but not to exceed $250,000.  For enforcement actions involving a GCD, SB 851 allows the prevailing side to recover attorney’s fees, but does not include a $250,000 cap.

While many GCDs in the state do not support these efforts, the HPWD Board of Directors firmly believe this legislation is a good balance for all parties, as it removes some barriers  that landowners may  encounter when they believe a GCD is not adequately protecting their groundwater. 

 HPWD provided testimony on SB 851.  The testimony given by General Counsel Victoria Whitehead can be found at 02:10:50: http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=45&clip_id=14092

Amarillo bank, Lubbock manufacturer receive state recognition for water conservation efforts

FirstBank Southwest of Amarillo and Samuel Jackson, Inc. of Lubbock recently received state recognition for their water conservation efforts.
 

FirstBank Southwest - Texas Rain Catcher Award

FirstBank Southwest Chairman of the Board Smith Ellis and Chief Lending Officer Will Miller accept the 2018 Texas Rain Catcher Award during the March 28 Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) meeting in Austin. Shown with them (L-R) are TWDB Chairman Peter Lake, Member Brooke Paup, and Member Kathleen Jackson.  (Photo courtesy TWDB)

FirstBank Southwest Chairman of the Board Smith Ellis and Chief Lending Officer Will Miller accept the 2018 Texas Rain Catcher Award during the March 28 Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) meeting in Austin. Shown with them (L-R) are TWDB Chairman Peter Lake, Member Brooke Paup, and Member Kathleen Jackson.  (Photo courtesy TWDB)

FirstBank Southwest received the 2018 Texas Rain Catcher Award at the March 28 Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) meeting in Austin.
 
Built in 2012, the FirstBank Southwest (FBSW) Western Banking Center is home to one of Amarillo’s larger commercial rainwater harvesting installations.
 
During a rainfall event, several downspouts channel water from the building’s metal roof to a permeable paver parking lot. Once below the pavers, the water makes its way into an underground tank.
 
The permeable pavers and underground tank provide a storage capacity of 26,600 gallons of harvested rainwater. That is the equivalent of 99.6 percent of the rainfall collected during a two-year storm event.
 
The FBSW banking center also uses a xeric landscape and drip irrigation system to help reduce landscape water use.
 
Created in 2007, the TWDB’s Rain Catcher award program “promotes technology, educates the public, and recognizes excellence in the application of rainwater harvesting systems in Texas.”
 

Samuel Jackson, Inc. - Blue Legacy Award in Manufacturing

Dr. Bogdan Jackson-Duda with Samuel Jackson, Inc. accepts the Blue Legacy in Manufacturing Award from Water Conservation Advisory Council Chair Karen Guz (L) and Texas Water Development Board Member Kathleen Jackson (R). (Photo courtesy TWDB)

Dr. Bogdan Jackson-Duda with Samuel Jackson, Inc. accepts the Blue Legacy in Manufacturing Award from Water Conservation Advisory Council Chair Karen Guz (L) and Texas Water Development Board Member Kathleen Jackson (R). (Photo courtesy TWDB)

Samuel Jackson, Inc. received the 2019 Blue Legacy Award for Manufacturing during ceremonies at the March 13 Texas Water Day at the Capitol in Austin.
 
Samuel Jackson, Inc. uses harvested rainwater as an alternative water supply source. The company manufactures moisture control and drying equipment for cotton gins.
 
As much as 90,000 gallons of rainwater can be stored in tanks at their facility. Plant operations can be sustained on as little as six inches of rainfall per year.

The rainwater harvesting tanks are carefully monitored to determine water use trends. As a result, water use has been reduced by 30 percent.
 
The filtered rainwater is excellent quality and offers many benefits during the manufacturing process.
 
Rainwater harvesting reduces dependence upon groundwater. It also allows for greater water use efficiency and sustainability.
 
The Water Conservation Advisory Council gives this annual award to “recognize manufacturing water users that have demonstrated outstanding and innovating commitment to the state’s mission of promoting responsible management and conservation of Texas’ water resources.”

Few groundwater bills filed this session

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

With the March 9 bill filing deadline behind us, we are officially in the heat of legislative session.

More than 7,000 pieces of legislation have been filed.

The most popular subjects include public education, property tax system, and recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

With such a strong emphasis on flooding and surface water issues, a less than normal amount of groundwater legislation was ultimately filed.

The hot topics in groundwater policy include:

Brackish Groundwater Development & Permitting

Following the passage of House Bill 30 (84R), the Texas Water Development Board has been researching and identifying Brackish Groundwater Production Zones.

Legislation filed this session seeks to mandate a new permitting process for access to brackish groundwater within the Brackish Groundwater Production Zones.

In the HPWD service area, the Dockum Aquifer is currently being studied for Brackish Groundwater Production Zones.

Depending on the legislature’s continued funding of the study, the Texas Water Development Board is expected to complete the Dockum study in two to five years.

Attorney’s Fees In GCD Litigation

Under current law, if a groundwater conservation district prevails in a lawsuit, the district may seek and the court shall grant payment of the district’s attorney’s fees and court costs.

Multiple pieces of legislation were filed to try and make attorney’s fees for the district permissive, or allow the prevailing party (on either side of the litigation) the opportunity to be reimbursed for their fees.

Every bill filed that addresses attorney’s fees legislation also places a cap on the amount of attorney’s fees a court may grant.

GCD Permitting Processes

The filed GCD permitting legislation this session seeks to continue the discussion of “similar rules” over a common aquifer, and whether or not GCDs are still the preferred method for managing groundwater in the State of Texas.

Generally speaking, the legislation filed seeks to ensure that groundwater conservation districts, through their local permitting processes, are efficiently balancing groundwater private property rights with conservation.

The next phase of the legislative session will predominately focus on committee hearings.

HPWD accepting RFPs for research projects

LUBBOCK TX (March 18, 2019) – High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD) is now accepting proposals for water conservation research, demonstration, and education project funding.

“HPWD funds a number of research and demonstration projects each year. We invite those with innovative ideas to submit requests for proposals that focus on water conservation demonstration, education, or research,” said General Manager Jason Coleman.

Proposals are due no later than 5:00 p.m., Monday, May 6, 2019. Email delivery is preferred and should be sent to jason.coleman@hpwd.org

Since 2014, HPWD has provided supplemental funding for several research and/or demonstration projects. These include completion of test wells into the Dockum and Edwards-Trinity (High Plains) aquifers; installation of a water conservation education garden at Bushland Elementary; rainwater harvesting research; investigation of residential Turfgrass irrigation habits; brackish groundwater treatment technology using plant polymers; and other water saving measures.

The research and demonstration funding committee was appointed by Board President Lynn Tate of Amarillo at the March 12 HPWD Board of Directors meeting.

Committee members include:

  • Mike Beauchamp, Chairman (HPWD Precinct Three Director).

  • Ronnie Hopper (HPWD Precinct Five Director).

  • Dan Seale (HPWD Precinct One Director)

  • Jason Coleman (HPWD General Manager).

  • Brett Bamert (HPWD Bailey County Advisory Committee member).

  • Dillon Pool (HPWD Randall County Advisory Committee member).

  • Darrell Newsom, City Manager, Wolfforth, TX (At-Large Member).

  • Aubrey Spear, P.E, Director of Utilities, City of Lubbock (At-Large Member).

In accordance with current policy, the committee will evaluate each project for possible funding. A final recommendation will be presented to the HPWD Board of Directors at their June meeting.

Proposal requirements and links to past projects are available at www.hpwd.org/research.

Domestic wells can pose turf irrigation challenges

Whether it is in the home or in the yard, it is important for persons who rely on domestic water wells to use their groundwater resources as efficiently as possible.

Rural residents can learn more about irrigation scheduling and domestic well maintenance at an April 13 workshop at the Cornerstone Ranch Event Center, 1901 Cement Plant Rd., in Bushland.

The free program begins at 10 a.m. and concludes with a catered lunch at 12 noon.

"Irrigating lawns with domestic water wells can present unique challenges for homeowners in rural areas,” said Dr. Gary Marek, agricultural engineer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) at Bushland. “Adoption of prudent management strategies can lead to more effective irrigation and extend limited groundwater resources.”

Workshop topics include:

  •  Irrigation Scheduling: How much to water, how often, and when not to water.

  •  Fertility Management: When and how much fertilizer should be used?

  • Turfgrass Varieties: Best options for turfgrass, water use characteristics, and aesthetics.

  • Domestic water well maintenance: Components of a well, maintenance, and contamination concerns.

Soil moisture probes, rain gauges, and other items will be distributed during lunch.

Funding for the workshop is provided by HPWD through its research and demonstration program.

Additional funding is provided by the Ogallala Aquifer Program. Other sponsors include USDA-ARS and Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension.

Additional information about the workshop is available by contacting Dr. Marek at (806) 356-5717 or emailing him at gary.marek@ars.usda.gov.