County mulls requiring proof of water

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

The Highlander

After holding a pair of public hearings Tuesday and Wednesday, Burnet County moved closer to requiring developers to prove enough groundwater is available onsite before they are granted approval to build new subdivisions.

The county has been working with the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District to add Appendix G to the county's subdivision ordinance to include provisions allowed by Section 232.0032 of the Local Government Code, relating to the availability of groundwater as a water source for platted subdivisions in unincorporated areas of the county.

One public hearing was held at 10 a.m. Tuesday during the regular Burnet County Commissioners Court meeting while a second was held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Both took palce at the Burnet County Courthouse.

Last September, CTGCD general manager Mitchell Sodak asked commissioners to consider adopting the regulations as his agency currently has no authority to require permitting of small, domestic wells which produce less than 25,000 gallons per 24-hour period, regardless of tract size, even though the agency is charged with protecting the county's groundwater resources.

“We have limitations in our rules that pertain to private wells,” Sodak said at Tuesday's hearing. “We have more authority over public water systems. This would help us strength our ability to make sure there is enough groundwater to serve any new developments which are built.”

Under Section 232.0032, anyone submitting a plat to subdivide land who intends to use groundwater as a water supply must submit a statement from a licensed engineer or geoscientist which certifies there is adequate groundwater available, which could require them to drill multiple test wells to prove water.

The developer would also be required to submit all information about water availability to the groundwater conservation district to be added into the state's groundwater database.

“The state first made this section of the code available about 12-14 years ago, but at the time, there was not as much growth in Burnet County which required we adopt it,” County Development Services Director Herb Darling said.

“Since that time, there has been tremendous growth over the past three to five years. It used to be that we thought water issues were mainly just in Spicewood and Smithwick, but we are finding more that you can't just drill a hole and hit water.”

Sodak said Gillespie, Blanco and Kerr counties all have similar agreements and conditions in their subdivision ordinances requiring an engineer's signature on plats prior to approval. Those counties, all located along the Southern Trinity Aquifer, are in a priority groundwater management area, or PGMA, which is an area which is experiencing, or is expected to experience, within 50 years, critical groundwater problems including shortages of surface water or groundwater, land subsidence resulting from groundwater withdrawal, or contamination of groundwater supplies.

A November 2005 study of Burnet, Williamson and northern Travis counties determined there was not a need to establish a PGMA, but did indicate it was an “area of concern” which could be re-evaluated if growth continued to expand in the area.

During Tuesday's hearing, one developer, Gordon M. Griffin, told commissioners he was concerned about “what the cost might be to developers in the future” from adopting the new regulations.

“It is wasteful to drill too many wells to verify water in some areas where we already have an idea of how the Trinity Aquifer is there,” Griffin said.

Sodak responded he did not think it was “wasteful” to drill a test well on property, calling it “an asset.”

“It will provide good information about available water and will be an asset to any future buyer,” Sodak said. “The property will sell better if there is a known source of water there.”

County Judge James Oakley said Tuesday he is encouraged by the new regulations, which will be up for approval at the March 12 Commissioners Court meeting.

“We have a responsibility to plan this county so we do not negatively affect those subdivisions which already exist,” Oakley said.

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