WATER FOR WESTERN HAYS COUNTY
A Challenging Future
Because of a pervasive drought in the Texas Hill Country, the need for available surface and groundwater is hitting a peak. CARD has reviewed the current groundwater conditions for western Hays County and has found the following:
- The Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD), which regulates pumping by water supply companies, has agreed to a modeled available groundwater (MAG) pumping of 9,600 acre feet per year (3 billion gallons) for all users, both permitted and exempt.
- 50% of the current water draw is being pumped by the 6,500 exempt private wells that are not regulated.
- The pumping rate approved by the HTGCD will cause a 19' average drawdown of the local aquifer over the 50-year planning cycle. Many private wells, area springs such as Jacobs Well, and spring fed waterways like the Blanco River and Cypress Creek are at risk of going dry if this pumping rate is carried out as planned.
- Because private wells are not regulated by the HTGCD, and with the growth expected in Western Hays County over the next 50 years, studies show that private wells will consume 95% of the available groundwater, leaving only 5% for public water supplies.
- It is crucial that our area's limited groundwater supply be managed properly so that it can serve both the needs of western Hays County's existing development and anticipated growth.
One solution proposed for western Hays County is to pump groundwater and/or surface water from other areas of Texas. Although plans to pump groundwater into western Hays County have been developed and approved by the Commissioners Court, the various river authorities have already fully committed available surface water from area lakes and rivers to their end users. Other aquifers in Central Texas are possible alternative water supplies; however, these sources have limited reliability, which became apparent when the directors of the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District in Bastrop County reduced the groundwater pumping permits that allow the transfer of water from their local aquifer. This action set a precedent for many similar ventures and indicates that other methods of solving water shortages will have to be found.
Because we all live, work, and play in this beautiful part of the Texas Hill Country and want to continue to enjoy the lifestyle that we have today, we need to reduce the amount of water we use. We live on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert and arid conditions are now the norm; therefore, we suggest the following ways to reduce water use:
- In many urban areas 70% of water consumption is used for outside irrigation. In the Hill Country, we must limit the use of water for outside landscape irrigation, decorative ponds, recreational lakes, and swimming pools.
- Landscaping for Hill Country residences and commercial development should use xeriscape design and drought tolerant plants and ground cover. New low-water-use turf grasses are available and have been very successful in Hill Country landscapes.
- For homes with adequate roof area, rainwater collection with properly sized storage tanks will provide a reliable and pure source of water for residential use. State and local governments should encourage/require installation of rainwater collection systems on all new home construction. Incentives are needed to encourage the conversion of existing homes to rainwater, as well as public education programs that demonstrate the great advantages of rainwater.
- Current State law limits the ability of large buildings to use rainwater as a water supply by requiring very expensive treatment and testing processes, much higher than for well water supply. Changes in State law to allow/encourage rainwater use for commercial applications would make collecting rainwater more attractive than using well water.
- Large buildings (schools, grocery stores, warehouses) within the Hill Country generate huge quantities of rainwater runoff. Through capture and storage, this water could supplement the groundwater used by local water supply companies without large expensive pipeline systems.
- Development regulations within area cities and Hays County should recognize that water availability is the limiting factor for future growth and set regulations accordingly. New subdivisions can be built with guidelines that limit the amount of ground covered by concrete or asphalt, and preserve open space for aquifer recharge and outdoor recreation. Homes can be built with rainwater collection as the primary water supply source, rather than well water. Highly treated wastewater can be used for landscape irrigation.
- Landowners with larger tracts can dedicate conservation easements to preserve open space, protect endangered species, and enhance aquifer recharge while the owner enjoys a tax benefit. Information on how to implement easements should be made available to the general public.
For the Hill Country to remain viable and for our property to hold its value, we must all be responsible for improving water availability—individuals as well as those who develop and implement policy. Recognizing the limits of the land and water in this region and finding ways to work together, we can determine the solutions that will support life in the Texas Hill Country for many years into the future.