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Vocal crowd packs River Authority and Groundwater District meeting

January 25, 2023 - 00:00
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Board grants two permits to Vanderpool Management

The quarterly meeting of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) on January 19 drew a record crowd of over 60 people, 23 of whom spoke during public comment regarding an application for two water wells in western Bandera County by Vanderpool Management.

Vanderpool Management had requested two water wells, one for 130 acre feet and another for a “barn well” requesting 70 acre feet of water for a total of 200 acre feet of water.

Peter Gregg, attorney for Vanderpool Management, made a statement to the Board in favor of approving the wells as requested.

After lengthy public comments, the board granted the permits but only for residential usage of 28 acre feet and barn usage of 28 acre feet for a total of 56 acre feet, notably less than the 200 acre feet requested.

Public comment was limited to three minutes per speaker.

Fred Berner of Mill Creek and Evans spoke first against granting the wells to Vanderpool Management. He was followed by Carlos Benavides from Laredo.

Benavides mentioned his family owns land in Kerr and Bandera Counties and remarked denying the wells was not the correct strategy to contain water use in the Hill Country. He recommended the community band together and lobby the Texas Legislature for stricter laws.

Next up was Kevin Wynn of Mill Creek Road. Wynn said his grandfather purchased 500 acres on Mill Creek in 1935. He asked the board to consider granting the wells would cause Mill Creek Spring to dry up. Most of the residents in the area use Mill Creek Spring as their water source.

Randy Harp of Foster Ranch Road made a brief statement and encouraged the board to deny the permits.

Peter Hormsby of Rainbow Drive reported he had property in Medin and had already lowered his well due to the drought and couldn’t afford to lower it further.

Brittany Clark reported the wells had already been drilled and expressed concern about how they would be monitored.

Peter Gregg asked approval of the wells be deferred.

Stephen Sparks said he opposed the wells and said a company outside of Midland was the one requesting the well. He added the well would impact him financially if he had to drop the pump lower in his well.

Evelyn O’Hara from the Utopia Food Pantry spoke for her organization. She reported that the food pantry was giving out water to clients whose wells had gone dry. She reported her clients did not have the resources to deepen their wells. Some at the meeting speculated that Vanderpool Management planned to pump the water table dry and sell the water back to the residents.

Harrison Buxton also spoke against granting the permit.

Margo Denke spoke about drawing water to fill so-called “vanity lakes” on the property in question. She said requesting that much water to fill the lakes with an uncontrolled spillway was not reasonable. She said that the “irrigation loophole” should not apply to this well.

Attorney Lauren Ice, representing the Friends of Hondo Canyon, said granting the applications for water wells to Vanderpool Management was inappropriate because they had not properly filled out their application and granting the applications was inconsistent with the county water management plan. She suggested denying the applications or sending them back to the company.

Rancher Ann Schnin noted that this was Texas’ driest year yet. And remarked these wells would have a detrimental impact on the area’s water. If the application were approved, she said, it would establish a dangerous precedent.

Resident Nancy Rinn said she was only a small property owner, but she had already lost her well and had to lower it 60 feet.

Steve Stringfellow spoke against approving the well permits. Dan Poston of Medina Water Company remarked that the permits asked for 6 times what the city of Medina (286 residents) used in a year. He also cited statistics that said wells that size could support 4 thousand head of cattle, or 59 thousand sheep/goats. The wells could irrigate 133 acres of agriculture. No one could specify what the large amount of water requested by Vanderpool Management would be used for.

Becky Westerbrooke, speaking for senior Josephine Parker, asked what the water was being used for. She referenced the proposed water park that was part of the Young Life camp. She asked if the Fire Departments would even have access to water to fight local fires. She stated that the permits “exceeds normal residential use by 1000 times.”

Resident Bill Weinacht wrote a letter his proxy, Becky Westerbrooke, read to the group. His letter opposed the granting of the permits because losing his water well would substantially decrease the property value.

Alva Alvarez, wife of Bill Weinacht, wrote a letter also read by Westerbrooke. It outlined the environmental impact to their ranch the lack of water caused.

Barbara Baggett from Keep Utopia Beautiful remonstrated the Board and said an employee of the Vanderpool Management Company had been untruthful. She exhorted the board to “not trust this landowner.”

David Barber of North Mill Creek stated that the “aquifer is not infinite.” He also stated this not only affects Bandera County but all the surrounding counties as well.

After the public comments closed, the Water Board began its regular meeting.

A financial audit for the year 2022 was presented. The water board got an “non-modified opinion,” which is the highest rating available.

The board also approved water permits for Emily Hauer and for the City of Bandera as well as the sale of out-of-date vehicles.

Finally, General Manager Dave Mauk gave an in-depth report of the BCRAG’s activities in the last quarter.