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.

USDA seeks public input on conservation standards

WASHINGTON – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced today it is seeking public input on its existing national conservation practice standards as part of implementing the 2018 Farm Bill. NRCS offers 150-plus conservation practices to America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to help them meet their business and natural resource needs on their working lands.

 “With the help of NRCS, agricultural producers across the country are taking voluntary steps to improve their operations while benefiting natural resources,” NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr said. “As part of our process of implementing the 2018 Farm Bill, we are asking agricultural producers, conservation partners and others to provide feedback on our practice standards in an effort to refine and enhance them.”

 NRCS is requesting public comments on how to improve conservation practice standards that support programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program, which help producers cover part of the costs for implementing these practices. The comment period ends April 25, 2019. More information can be found in the Federal Register.

 These standards provide guidelines for planning, designing, installing, operating and maintaining conservation practices.

2018 Farm Bill

As part of implementing the 2018 Farm Bill, NRCS is reviewing conservation practices by:

  • Evaluating opportunities to increase flexibility while ensuring natural resource benefits.

  • Seeking avenues for the optimal balance between meeting site-specific conservation needs and minimizing risks of design failure and associated construction and installation costs.

  • Ensuring, to the maximum extent practicable, the completeness and relevance of the standards to local agricultural, forestry and natural resource needs, including specialty crops, native and managed pollinators, bioenergy crop production, forestry and others.

 Providing Comments

 Comments may be submitted using any of the following methods:

  •  Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov . Follow the instructions for submitting comments.

  • Mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attention: National Environmental Engineer, Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Room 6130-S, Washington, DC 20250.

 NRCS will use comments as part of updating standards. For more information on how NRCS is implementing the Farm Bill, visit farmers.gov/farmbill.

HPWD enrolling for 2019 Irrigation Assessment Program

High Plains Underground Water Conservation District is now enrolling producers for participation in its 2019 Irrigation Assessment Program.

Since the program's reinstatement in 2013, cooperating producers have volunteered to have their center pivot or subsurface drip irrigation system evaluated by HPWD staff. Water levels in wells are measured at the beginning and end of the growing season. In addition, flow rates of the wells/irrigation systems are checked with an ultrasonic flow meter. This service is provided by HPWD at no cost to willing participants.

The pumping hours, total gallons of water per minute, and the number of irrigated acres are calculated to determine the total acre-inches of groundwater applied during the growing season. Rainfall totals are determined through the use of radar estimates from April to September. This gives an estimate of the total inches of water available for plant use.

Water samples are also collected as an extra service to those participating in the program. HPWD is able to check Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), chloride, and pH levels of groundwater. It is important to understand water chemistry since it impacts the efficient use of supplemental nutrients applied to crops.

All this information is used to better understand the groundwater conditions in aquifers within the HPWD service area.

For example, the 2018 program participants' well data reveals an average depth-to-water of 225 feet and an average flow rate of 108 gallons per minute. The average amount of irrigation water applied in 2018 by program participants was 15.2 inches for corn, 15 inches for silage, 11.3 inches for cotton, and 5.7 inches for wheat.

All information gathered from each site is shared with program participants. Several producers have said the data has helped them better understand their irrigation system's performance.

"High Plains Water District encourages all interested producers to participate in the 2019 Irrigation Assessment Program. There are two major benefits. First, it helps farmers understand how much water is used per year for crop production. Second, it provides beneficial data for future water planning efforts where accurate irrigation pumping information must be considered," Whitworth said.