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Court flooded with public comment about water concerns

August 31, 2022 - 00:00
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    Margo Denke addresses the court with extensive concerns and figures regarding water accessibility in the area

Multiple citizens and organizational representatives voiced their objections to the Bandera County Commissioner’s Court last Thursday regarding frustration with the boom of land development in the Hill Country and the drilling of water wells that are part-and-parcel to big developer’s plans to expand.

Margo Denke, Founder of Friends of Hondo Canyon, told the court her organization has partnered with Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) and the United States Geological Survey to fund a Middle Trinity Aquifer Monitoring Well in Hondo Canyon.

The station has been live since June 6, and besides measuring the aquifer, it will serve as the second flood monitoring station in Bandera County.

The aquifer level in this location dropped six feet between June 6 to August 6. Less than 10 Middle Trinity wells are within a mile of this monitoring station.

“The Grand View Subdivision proposal of 96 lots, translating to 96 more wells, is directly across FM 470 from the Hondo Canyon monitor well. The water availability model for Winnan’s Creek Subdivision shows these 176 lots, translating to an additional 176 wells, will create a drawdown that reaches FM 470. How much further down will the Middle Trinity Aquifer level be drawn if these five-acre subdivision plats are approved? Is there water available to serve the residents of Bandera County if these plats are approved?, said Denke.

Local resident, George, shared his sentiments: “I used to play in Privilege Creek, Mason Creek, those creeks are all dry. They have been for years. Why is that? ‘Cause there’s subdivisions at the edges of those creeks. And the springs are gone. The more wells you tap, the fewer springs we have. Fewer springs we have, fewer creeks we have. Fewer creeks we have, fewer river we have. Look at our river. Look at the Guadalupe River. They’re not running. They’ve run all my life. We’re getting overcrowded in terms of how much water we’re taking out of the ground. Please give this your consideration. We have to stop sometime. Now is the time.”

In reference to the court’s consideration to revise the Bandera County Subdivision and Land Development Regulations, Ann Schneider of Bandera Canyonlands Alliance said: “These provisions are necessary and will benefit current and future landowners. We hope that the Commissioner’s Court will unanimously approve these changes and make them effective immediately.” Pointing to the plat considerations on the Commissioner’s agenda, she added “BCRAGD strongly recommends that these 5-acre lots be increased to at least 10 acres. According to the subdivision rules we are aware that the county relies on the comments of the BCRAGD on water availability prior to granting final approval of those plats.”

Schneider shared that she had read the water availability reports by the engineers that did the studies for these subdivisions and was enlightened to discover that the reports relayed pointed concerns about the quality and the quantity of the water in this area and that water conservation is needed to preserve water availability.

Another resident stated, “Water availability studies should be done during the preliminary plat application process, not the final plat. It’s time for our county to change these rules. The longer the county delays, the more time developers have to put in new plats to be grandfathered in.”

Denke and streams of other residents have made their presence known to the Court on a consistent basis over the past few months in lieu of the looming dilemma of water scarcity where we live and throughout the Hill Country.

According to Denke, years ago, 35 million gallons flowed daily from the Comanche Springs near Fort Stockton into a basin next to a park where people picnicked and played softball. In 1951, the water stopped flowing. A landowner 10 miles from the spring pumped this minor aquifer dry. Our spring-fed streams rely on aquifers and they can be pumped to extinction. What happened to Fort Stockton can happen to us. There is only so much groundwater and the majority of Bandera County relies on the Trinity Aquifer, a fragile and slowly recharging aquifer. Our springs come from this aquifer.

Denke said these springs feed our rivers, our lakes, and our tourist economy. The Trinity Aquifer does not behave like the Edwards Aquifer. When an inch of rain falls in the Edwards Aquifer region, the Edwards monitor wells show within 1-2 days, an inch increase. This is due to the Edwards rock layer with its karst formations, caves and conduits. Most of Bandera County is in the Glen Rose rock layer, where sponge like evaporite rock layers allow for slow and lateral replenishment.

According to Denke, while Edwards rock contains wide conduits that can bring rain water directly into the Edwards Aquifer, water falling on our land percolates and slowly, if ever, reaches the aquifer. Here are the monitor well observations: Bandera county has an average rainfall of 30-32” of rain a year, yet our Trinity aquifer replenishes at 2” per year.

Effective September 1, 2022, the BCRAGD will apply new minimum lot size rules for exempt registered domestic/ livestock wells. The minimum lot size has been increased from 5 acres to 10 acres. Smaller lots can still have wells, but these wells must be permitted, metered, and required to follow drought management rules. Lots platted prior to September 1, 2022, are exempt; it is recommended but not required that exempt wells follow drought management rules.

According to the Hill Country Alliance, over the last 20 years, surface water and groundwater resources have come under great pressure from population growth and new development, much of which was poorly planned. In many areas, the hidden cache of water stored in our aquifers, which support the flow of springs and creeks, is being pumped down faster than it can be replenished by rainfall.

Some wells are already drying up during hot, dry summers. Residential users are often competing with ranchers’ and farmers’ deeper wells and bigger pumps for the limited resource. These conflicts show no sign of abating any time soon.

A letter from the board of Friends of Hondo Canyon to the Commissioners, closed the public comment section.

“Development is going to happen and we welcome new neighbors, but we do not welcome added concerns regarding water availability. Yes, emotions are tense now that we are in Stage Five drought, but the aquifers have never been strong in Hondo Canyon, even in times where we are not in drought. Ask any old timer out here, and they will tell you.”