HB 3405 Passes but EP War Not Over
To the hundreds of individuals and the groups who have organized and worked so hard to protect the water of the Trinity Aquifer and the people, property values and basic rights of Western Hays County, Thank You!
HB 3405 passed the Senate late Friday night, May 22.
Is it time to celebrate? Not yet. The fight is not done, the war is not won - there are more steps ahead, but the news from the Texas Legislature was - finally - good last night.
By a vote of 27-4, the Senate passed House Bill 3405. This is the bill that expands the regulatory area of the Barton Springs-Edward Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) to cover the "white zones," the unprotected areas of Hays County not currently in a groundwater district.
The wording of the bill was not everything that we hoped for, and the wording leaves plenty of questions and room for further debate, according to some members of the legal and lobbying teams that hammered it out. But it is also not all that EP wanted - and very nearly got.
One of the lead lawyers involved told us this morning that they were still trying to determine the various implications of the bill. All the various organizations and legal issues this will eventually involve will factor in unknown ways in the final results. We wish we could be more specific, but even those most involved are not sure. Such is legislation.
But the final bill took out the worst destructive language, including the "grandfathering" of EP's wells. According to Mary Stone, President of BSEACD, this bill is one they can work with and get the job done.
The bill still is not law. Gov. Abbott can sign it, or veto it. Or he can do neither, and it passes into law automatically.
A day of battle
As many of you know, the original bill, as written by Rep. Jason Isaac, was almost fatally damaged in its passage through the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs Committee early this week. It was the only way the bill was allowed to pass by the chair of that committee, Sen. Perry of Lubbock, who was determined to protect EP. Supporters of the original bill believed they could change the wording back before it came to a vote. If not, they were absolutely determined to kill the bill, because it would have been a disaster as re-written. It nearly came to that.
Friday was a marathon day of fighting on this bill.
"It was basically a battle all day for the support of the Lt. Gov. (Dan Patrick)," we were told this morning by a member of one of several lobbying teams involved. "There were 30 drafts of the bill through the day." All kinds of special interests groups, as well as elected officials, came out of the woodwork with specific things they wanted to get in - or out - of this bill. An absolute complete grandfathering of all EP's wells was in some versions of the bill. Finally, Patrick threw his support to a version, and that went to a vote.
Many, many people worked very, very hard for weeks, right through yesterday's marathon, on getting this bill written and shaped and reshaped and helping Isaac and Sen. Donna Campbell keep it afloat. Yesterday there were lobbying teams, or lawyers, from BSEACD, Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, Rancher Bill Johnson, and Commissioner Will Conley leading for Hays County. Among others. The other side had teams from EP, Buda and Goforth SUD and others.
It is important to point out that currently there are still other strategies going forward to fight the EP threat, including, but not limited to, the TESPA lawsuit and rancher Bill Johnson's work against eminent domain condemnation that would allow Goforth to build a pipeline for EP.
CARD extends a thank you and kudos to the literally thousands of people, from elected officials to organization and subdivision members to individual concerned citizens, who have signed petitions, passed resolutions, written and called their representatives, put up signs, spread the word to their friends and neighbors, attended unknown scores of meetings and rallies, gone to the legislative hearings and kept up the pressure. Thank you. Whatever happens, the people of Hays County have been spectacular in rallying to support their neighbors and what is right.
Stay tuned. There may be more calls for all of us to do more of the same. And we will.
- CARD Steering Committee