Water management is often poorly understood. In order to better educate the public, the BBCA has recently established water committees in Brewster and Presidio Counties, with others to follow. Each committee has already met twice.
These committees will be working to educate area citizens about their local Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) and the role that each of us can play in ensuring our water future. Established less than 20 years ago, most GCDs are chronically underfunded and thus ill-equipped to perform their duties. This comes at a time when rural areas, such as West Texas, are coming under increasing pressure from large cities and industrial interests to acquire water.
The Texas Water Code provides authority to GCDs to establish workable Groundwater Availability Models (GAMs) and define Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) in order to sustainably manage local water resources. However, as mentioned above, our Groundwater Conservation Districts currently lack the resources and data to effectively accomplish these goals.
GCDs have a variety of means to cover their operating expenses, including taxes, fees, and appropriating existing county funds; the most agreeable of these options is to institute fees on new wells, large agricultural users, and commercial water customers. Such fees would not affect small agricultural users or residential customers.
Another hurdle is the collection of the data necessary to establish GAMs and DFCs because some municipalities are exempt from the rules of the Groundwater Conservation Districts. This so-called “Midland exemption” is a mechanism that allows a city to sell water outside the authority of its county Groundwater Conservation District, which greatly distorts the available data on water use. A helpful analogy here would be a family that is trying to create a budget (GAMs) in order to save for the future (DFCs). Now imagine that one or more members of that family opts out of the budget. The available money could disappear more quickly than expected. And it would become impossible to effectively track how much money the family will have in the future.
Reliable GAMs and DFCs are critical to securing our water future. We are fortunate to have many knowledgeable local experts to help us. With our small population and relatively low water use, our water future could easily remain bright for generations to come. But this could change quickly, if our towns continue to sell water outside the planning process of the Groundwater Conservation Districts. It’s in everyone’s best interest to participate in a single water budget to ensure that we are saving for our shared future.
The good news is that there is no immediate threat. Unlike other regions of Texas and the country, our counties are well positioned to meet our short- and intermediate-term needs. The challenge lies in reaching a common consensus now, before the next big city or corporation comes along and upsets that delicate balance. According to Sarah Schlessinger, Executive Director of the Texas Association of Groundwater Conservation Districts, a robust and transparent Groundwater Conservation District is the single-best way for rural communities to remain viable in the face of inevitable growth in the state-wide demand for water.