Hays County remains gripped by excessive drought, but lawmakers have offered little in the way of proposals to quench the mounting problem. To the west, the Trinity Aquifer and the private wells it feeds are going dry. To the east, the San Marcos river flows at its lowest recorded level since 1997.
Historically, Texas lawmakers have resisted the restriction of over-pumping to not infringe on property rights. Instead, tax breaks and other incentives are used to lessen the effects of water supply shortages.
However, “Addressing Texas’ Future Water Needs” falls 28th on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top 30 list of priorities, below Senate Bill 12: “Banning Children’s Exposure to Drag Shows” and SB14: “Ending Child Gender Modification.”
The state is divided up into groundwater conservation districts that act as the main authority for groundwater resources. For instance, the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District presides over the western half of Hays County, which falls under State Rep. Carrie Isaac’s (R-Dripping Springs) District 73.
“The legislature has approved a system where the citizens of each district get together and decide what a reasonable compromise is between lots of groundwater production and the expectation that your great-great-greatgreat grandkids will have access to the groundwater due to some conservation,” Charlie Flatten, Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District General Manager, said. “What we have seen across the state is that most aquifers are being withdrawn at a greater rate than they’re recharging.”
Beth Ramey, communications director for the Hays County Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist Program, said many of her fellow members’ wells have run dry.
“It’s very obvious that the aquifers are quite, quite low,” Ramey said. “Jacob’s Well has stopped flowing (five) times in 100 years and right now is one of those times. There’s a lot of evidence we’re in a pickle.”
In neighboring District 45, State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood), who represents San Marcos, has authored several bills to deal with water supply shortages in the area and the “weatherization of water and wastewater facilities.” House Bill (HB) 40 would make available a property tax break equal to the value of a rainwater collection, or graywater recycling system — something Flatten recommends.
“If you’re buying a piece of property in western Hays County, install a rainwater harvesting system and utilize that at your sole water source,” Flatten said. “It\’s usually cheaper than drilling a well and we get enough rain on average per year so that a properly sized rainwater harvesting system will support a regular-sized family.”
Flatten said there isn’t enough space on smaller quarter-to-half-acre lots to allow rainwater harvesting systems to be retrofitted. Zwiener’s office is finalizing the language on a bill to be filed this session to give rapid-growth areas like Hays County authority to apply water- use restrictions to new subdivisions.
“These are areas where we are heavily dependent on our aquifers for water and we want to make sure the growth that is there can be sustained over time with our local water,” Zwiener said. “Asking neighborhoods to be built in ways that use less water is something that keeps the community healthy for a long time even while that growth still happens.”
Zwiener’s water plan focuses on monitoring construction at the front end, allowing local authorities to negotiate with developers and compromise on their bottom line, as well as the aquifer’s.
Legislators could potentially fund the $60 billion investment towards Texas water infrastructure outlined in the 2017 state water plan using the state budget surplus revenue.
Isaac is the vice chairwoman for the Texas House Water Caucus, a bipartisan, non-voting Texas House caucus that works to ensure that water continues to be a legislative priority. According to Isaac’s office, Texans lose 572 thousand acre/ ft of water every year because of cracked pipes and leaky service connections. She would like to see the state’s budget surplus used on items like water infrastructure.
“We have a surplus right now,” Isaac said. “I would like to see the surplus spent on one-time things and I think the infrastructure is one of those that I would like to see water infrastructure be one of those items.”
As of March 3, Isaac has yet to author or sponsor legislation concerning water issues.
In Zwiener’s district, residents of San Marcos and surrounding areas have noticed signs of a diminishing water supply, but not from dry faucets. Unlike the drinking water piped along the Interstate Highway 35 corridor, the San Marcos River’s chilly water currently flows over 70 cubic feet per second, less than the traditional flow between 150 to 300 cfs. Besides the endangered species reliant upon native river habitats, countless businesses depend on tourism the river brings to the city.
“A lot of people feel healthier in areas where there’s a lot of natural resources around where they can get out into nature — that’s a value of the San Marcos–Austin area,” Nico Hauwert, hydrogeologist and program manager for Balcones Canyonland Preserve, said. “It’s marketable. It would be very different for the intrinsic value of that area without them.”
Referred to the House Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 23, HB40 must survive a public hearing at 10 a.m. at the John H. Reagan building on Monday, March 6, prior to appearing before the House for a vote.