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300 folks attended the Summit this year.

Milam & Burleson Counties Groundwater Summit Overview

Groundwater experts came to the Caldwell Civic Center on August 17, 2023 to speak at the ninth annual Milam & Burleson Counties Groundwater Summit. About 300 folks attended the Summit this year.

Leah Martinsson, Executive Director of the Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts, once again served as the Master of Ceremonies. Martinsson opened the event with a warm and informative address to all attendees. She then introduced The Honorable Judge Keith Schroeder who welcomed the attendees. Schroeder reminded the attendees about the importance of water for agriculture, our residences, and community water systems and how water leaving our counties is being used for economic development in surrounding counties and can’t be used in our District. He wanted to make sure our citizens have some compensation for the loss of our water. He is working with Legislators, local officials and the POSGCD Board. He commended Senator Lois Kolkhorst and Representative Stan Gerdes for their work with local water issues for rural Texas.

The first speaker, Tony Smith, an engineer with Carollo Engineers and project manager for the Brazos G Regional Water Planning Group, shared information about the process of Water Planning in the State of Texas.  He explained the history and process of state-wide water planning and how it changed due to the extreme drought in the 1950’s followed by the drought of the 1990’s.  The State’s Regional Water plan is there to ensure we have adequate water supplies for all Texans.  He noted the process starts with the existing water supply, both groundwater and surface water, and then how strategies are used to meet demands and consider the best way to use our State’s water supply.  He shared how the Region G Board members take into consideration projections due to population growth, per capita usage, infrastructure as well as current uses and decide what strategies are needed on a local level to address the water needs for the next 70 years and beyond. Tony shared that our neighbor, the City of Georgetown, was the fastest growing city by the projected growth in population in just Region G from 1.9 million in 2010 to near 4.5 million in 2070 and how 5 counties along the I-35 corridor will show the most growth and will account for about half of the region’s population. 

The second panel spoke on the Vista Ridge Project and discussed the affects and impacts of the project and how property rights affect the local GCDs ability to regulate. Billy Howe, Associate Director of Farm Bureau, spoke about how the Rule of Capture affects groundwater and the Vista Ridge project. Robert Mace, Director of the Center for Water and the Environment – Texas State University, shared how the Edwards Aquifer Authority v Day case from the Texas Supreme Court opinion is a complicated decision that is used in many groundwater rules and decisions.

Charles Porter, an expert in Water Rights, discussed how groundwater is an incredibly valuable resource and how water is going to continue to be moved around the state as population centers grow around the state. He emphasized that Groundwater Districts are very important to finding the balance between landowners with water rights and the areas of the state that need the water.

Moderator John Dupnik, Texas Water Development Board, posed the question, “Can a Groundwater District say NO?” This spurred a lively conversation among the panelist. Gary Westbrook, POSGCD General Manager, answered the question this way, “If an applicant does not have enough water rights they can be told no. Otherwise a GCD can’t say no, but they can say not that much and not for that long.” Some people in Milam and Burleson County wish the GCD could say no. Gary also pointed out that the Board of POSGCD has implemented the Groundwater Well Assistant Program (GWAP) to assist landowners whose wells have been affected by regional pumping. This was a very interesting and informative program that we encourage you to watch the video of on our website, https://posgcd.org/groundwater-summit/

Bobby Bazan, Executive Director of Texas Ground Water Association, explained the importance of the association which is made up of Texas well drillers and members of the Texas Water Well industry. Much of their support to their members comes in the form of education programs for water well drillers to make sure they take good care of the asset of groundwater. 

During the lunch break, Board President Ward Roddam and Gary Westbrook hosted a presentation of awards to retiring Board member Steven Wise for his 9+ years of dedicated service. They also presented appreciation awards to two staff members, Bobby Bazan, who has gone on to be the Executive Director of Texas Ground Water Association after 10 years of service to the District and Doug Box, Education Coordinator, who is retiring after 5+ years with the District.

Ward Roddam, POSGCD Board President and Gary Westbrook gave the Stat of the District presentation and introduced the staff and Board of POSGCD. They also highlighted all the accomplishments of each of the committees of the District, from the Building Committee that is working on the new Educational Facility for the District, the importance of the Rules Committee and all the work they did this year to protect our aquifers and more. 

The Honorable Milam County Judge Bill Whitmire welcomed attendees back to the summit after lunch.  Judge Whitmire pointed out that this summit is one of the largest in recent years and thanked the attendees for their interest. He talked about how extensive POSGCD’s website is and that people should take advantage of it. He encouraged residents to become more involved with their state, local and county officials. We need to all realize the importance of water as it pertains to the future of our District. 

Another very interesting panel discussed the formation, meaning and use of the term, Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) in Groundwater. Robby Cook, former State Representative District 17, authored and worked on many of the important water bills for the Texas Legislature. Those Bills included how DFCs are used in the Texas Water Plan. Gary Westbrook shared how Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) use DFCs in developing Rules, which provide for the conservation and protection of our aquifers. Robert Mace talked about how the State Water Plan uses the concept of DFCs to help insure there will be water for the residents of Texas even as the population continues to grow. This is another video you should watch to help you understand what the concept of DFCs. https://posgcd.org/groundwater-summit/

The three speakers of the next panel gave an update on the Bills at the 88th Legislative Session.  Robby Cook of Riceland Consulting, the consultant for our District, gave some historical background on how GCDs, being political subdivisions of the State, were formed and how GCDs manage groundwater. Cook pointed out how there is likely be a change in water legislation with Representative Tracy King, Chairman of the Natural Resource Committee,  retiring. Chairman King is known as one of the fairest advocates for Texas Water law. Also retiring is, Representative Four Price, who has also done a great job for water in Texas. 

Leah Martinsson explained how the 92 GCDs work together to manage the Groundwater in the State. Each GCD is different because the aquifers and water needs for each GCD are different.  All of the GCDs in the 16 GMAs work together as a part of the process to develop the DFCs for the State Water Plan.  She also talked about how House Bill 3059 affects transport fees when water is going to be transported outside the districts. This Bill raised the limit from 17 cents to 20 cents per 1,000 gallons, with an automatic increase of 3% a year if needed. This Bill also makes clear that GCDs can use these funds to maintain the operability of wells in the District that have been affected by water being transported. 

Sarah Kirkle, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs for Texas Water Conservation Association, talked about several Bills including Senate Bill 156 that did not pass. This Bill requires attorney fees to be paid by the District if it loses but if the GCD wins in court, the attorney fees would be paid to the District. She also commented on the fact that Gary Westbrook has been very involved and serves as the chair of TWCA’s interim groundwater committee.

District staff members Gregory Perry, POSGCD Water Resource Specialist and Michael Redman, POSGCD Compliance Specialist, explained how the Monitoring Well Network is necessary to get better science so that we can have good management policies. Greg talked about the GWAP program and how the District has spent over $1,000,000 on assisting landowners with wells that have been affected by regional pumping. Michael showed the new Driller’s Guidance Tool that will be of assistance for drillers and landowners in our District. This tool will help determine the depth new wells should be drilled to and where the screens should be placed. 

Jaclyn Wise, Extension Associate Texas Water Resource Institute, gave some great information on the Texas A&M AgriLife programs that the District offers free for residents of Milam and Burleson Counties. She introduced several other Texas A&M AgriLife programs, including the Big Elm Creek Watershed program, the Little River Monitoring program and the David Creek monitoring Project.

Joel Pigg from Texas Well Owners Network gave an informative program on water quality and explained the results of the water testing program POSGCD provided to local landowners this year, free of charge. 69 people participated in this year’s water testing. 

Speaker’s presentation slides and videos of each program can be found on the POSGCD website at https://posgcd.org/groundwater-summit/, videos of the presentation will be up soon.

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