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.

City of Wolfforth to drill new municipal water supply well

Drilling will soon begin on a new municipal water supply well in Wolfforth, which will also be used to investigate the Edwards-Trinity (High Plains) and Dockum Aquifers in western Lubbock County.

Texas based Layne Christensen Company will begin drilling the well early next week. The entire project is expected to be completed in two weeks.

The City of Wolfforth is exploring possible use of groundwater in the Edwards-Trinity (High Plains) Aquifer for municipal use. This aquifer lies directly beneath the Ogallala, which is the primary aquifer on the Southern High Plains.

A small diameter test hole will be drilled through the Edwards-Trinity (High Plains) and Dockum aquifers to a depth of approximately 1,700 feet. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will then log the entire borehole using advanced technological methods.  The information from this survey provides very detailed analysis of the formations, including water quality.  After the logging is complete, the Dockum Aquifer portion of the test hole will be plugged to the base of the Edwards-Trinity (High Plains) Aquifer, which is about 300 feet below land surface.

If adequate water is located and can be produced from the Edwards-Trinity (High Plains) aquifer, the test hole will be reamed, cased and completed for use as a municipal well to increase the City of Wolfforth’s current groundwater supply. If this effort proves successful, it will be less costly than pumping water from the city’s other water rights which are located southwest of Wolfforth.

City of Wolfforth officials are working to ensure citizens have a reliable source of clean drinking water for years to come. The recently completed electro-dialysis reversal (EDR) treatment plant addresses this need.  This state-of-the-art water treatment plant went online in May 2017 and is currently serving approximately 4,600 citizens.  Officials are hopeful this test well project will increase the city’s current water supply.

The High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD) Board of Directors unanimously agreed to cost-share this exploratory well with the City of Wolfforth in early 2017. The HPWD Board agreed to allocate $90,000 to assist with the project, plus USGS logging costs.

 “The Edwards-Trinity Aquifer will hopefully provide us with a water source that will not compete with our own wells or the irrigation wells in the area,” said Wolfforth City Manager Darrell Newsom. “Our partnership with HPWD will allow us to share information with other cities in the region, and that will help all of us. HPWD’s cooperation and support will allow us to obtain much more complete data than we would be able to obtain and understand on our own.”

This is the District’s third partnership with a municipality to explore the Dockum Aquifer. In 2016, the cities of Abernathy and Lubbock, with assistance from the HPWD, drilled test wells to determine the quality and quantity of the brackish aquifer. Lubbock’s test well, located near the South Water Treatment Plant, was completed in December 2016.

“We are learning more about the Dockum Aquifer as a result of these efforts,” said HPWD General Manager Jason Coleman. “In recent years, the District has established a monitoring network in this aquifer, and these partnerships allow us to add additional data collection sites.”