Water woes are of concern to all of us! If you use well water, enjoy the creeks and streams in Central Texas and/or care about the volume and quality of water that runs into our drinking water reservoirs, this article is extremely important to you. Even if your home’s source of water is from Lake Travis via a water district, you are impacted by reduced groundwater. Rivers and creeks are fed by springs from groundwater. Many experts believe that the reduced inflow of rivers and creeks into the Highland Lakes during this drought – they are notably less than during the 1950’s drought of record – is related to the extensive pumping of groundwater.
Concern about available groundwater started over 20 years ago when the Texas Legislature designated portions of Southwestern Travis County as a Priority Groundwater Management Area (PGMA) – meaning that the underlying Trinity Aquifer was already showing signs of stress from development and needed to be managed. The Legislature required that PGMA designated areas (there were a number of them) put a groundwater conservation district (GCD) in place. Twenty years later, and after many attempts, a groundwater district still has not been implemented in Southwestern Travis County and conditions have worsened. Most other areas designated as PGMAs have put groundwater districts in place.
The Colorado alluvial aquifer on the eastern side of Travis County is also showing signs of impacts from over pumping. The current drought is heightening the stress on all Travis County groundwater. Wells are having problems or have gone dry. Even some subdivisions on groundwater are having problems. Most creeks and streams have ceased to flow. As a sole source of water for many people, the quantity of groundwater is limited. With the high projected growth rates for Travis County (Travis County has experienced a 26% growth rate in the past 10 years!) groundwater is not a good long-term source of water and must be managed carefully.
In consideration of the pressures on groundwater supply, the Travis County Commissioners Court suspended, in October 2010, for one year the approvals of subdivisions using the Trinity Aquifer groundwater and initiated a process to develop new subdivisions regulations regarding water availability throughout the County. Seven other Texas counties with PGMAs have already adopted water availability rules and most also have a GCD. Travis County’s proposed changes draw extensively from these existing rules. Here are some key proposed provisions:
• New subdivisions using the Colorado River Alluvial Aquifer or any other aquifer, except the Trinity or Edwards, as a source of water supply would not be approved.
• New subdivisions using Trinity or Edwards aquifer groundwater would be required to demonstrate a 30-year supply of groundwater and provide a report detailing all existing water wells within a half mile of the subdivision.
• The layout of lots in the subdivision would need to meet appropriate requirements regarding well spacing or other limits based on the required Texas Commission on Environmental Quality certification.
• Water wells for large subdivisions would be monitored and the data reported to Travis County.
• Subdivisions using groundwater would have contingency plans and a minimum storage capacity to deal with drought and other problems.
• All subdivisions would meet minimum standards for water infrastructure sufficient to fight fires.
• Subdivisions could not use groundwater for amenity ponds or aesthetic features. (Evaporation is extremely high from this use of limited groundwater.)
• To protect aquifer recharge (water seeping through the ground to refill aquifers), there would be density limits for all subdivisions over the Trinity or Edwards aquifers, regardless of water source. This is important, because if there are no relatively flat areas for recharge to occur and if homes and pavement occupy the majority of the land then most rain is lost to rapid stormwater run-off because it does not have the available open space to be absorbed into the aquifers.
• To provide flexibility, variances could be granted if supported by data showing no adverse impact on water supply.
The Travis County Commissioners need to hear from you on this important matter. For detailed information on the proposed rule changes check out the Travis County website at http://www.co.travis.tx.us/tnr. Please do call or email my office with your comments or questions. Tel. (512) 854-9333 or email: Karen.Huber@co.travis.tx.us.
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