Travis County commissioners ban development that uses Trinity Aquifer water (Posted By Mike Mecke)

County will study ways to regulate groundwater use.

By Marty Toohey

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Updated: 12:31 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

Published: 10:38 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010

Travis County commissioners unanimously approved a one-year ban Tuesday on nearly all new development in western parts of the county that would rely on water from the Trinity Aquifer.

The county has received complaints of wells that draw from the Trinity running dry. County officials say the ban would give them time to study and enact stricter rules governing what can be built over Travis County’s portion of the Trinity, a massive aquifer that stretches from North Texas to west of San Antonio and is divided into many pockets, including one in western Travis and northern Hays County.

The ban is intended “to take a pause to have a dialogue with those landowners” who draw or might draw from the Trinity, Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said.

Some affected property owners were unhappy about the county’s decision. Ted Stewart , who owns land near Hamilton Pool Road, said the commissioners chose to infringe on the property rights of rural Travis County residents to appease “mostly downtown metrosexuals or people (already) living on beautiful, 5-acre subdivided properties in the Hill Country.”

The ban does not apply to developments that have already been approved, such as the West Cypress Hills subdivision, where about 100 of 1,500 planned homes have been built. The ban also does not apply to planned subdivisions with pending applications for county permits.

In addition, the ban includes some minor exceptions. For instance, it does not apply to developments with lots larger than 10 acres , as long as the developer does not build any roads.

The ban is necessary, county officials say, because of long-term population growth and water demand forecasts, and wells in the region that periodically run dry. “Most of the dry wells are associated with increased pumpage due to recent development,” independent hydrologist Raymond Slade Jr. wrote in a 2006 report for the Hays Trinity Groundwater District, which oversees pumping from the Trinity in adjacent Hays County.

Todd Reimers, whose family owns large tracts in western Travis County, said enacting such a district in the western part of the county — as opposed to a building ban — is the best way to address the water issues. There are now seven districts operating along the Trinity, and Slade said Travis should have one to ensure that Travis can claim its share of the water.

The state is laying groundwork for such a district, which must be approved by a majority of people who would live within its bounds.

Commissioner Karen Huber, who represents western Travis County, said she supports the idea but is skeptical that the district would effectively regulate water use without additional county rules.

The commissioners approved the ban 3-0; Ron Davis and Margaret Gómez were absent.

“It’s prudent to be proactive,” said John Dupnik , with the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, which helps manage a neighboring portion of the Edwards Aquifer and contends that drought and increased development are probably contributing to dry Trinity wells.

The Trinity is one of the most highly used groundwater resources in Texas, according to the State Water Plan, last updated in 2006. Although its primary use is for municipalities, it is also used for irrigation, livestock and other domestic purposes.

In 2008, during the drought that parched much of Central Texas, Jacob’s Well, a prized spring fed by the Trinity Aquifer in northern Hays County, went dry. It was the first time it had gone dry since 2000 and only the second time since pioneers settled in the area.

Jacob’s Well is the primary source of water for Cypress Creek, which runs through Wimberley.

mtoohey@statesman.com; 445-3673

http://www.statesman.com:80/news/local/travis-county-commissioners-ban-development-that-uses-trinity-981635.html

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