Water is a precious resource for all living things, but especially in an area that only receives a total of 14 inches of rain or less a year. The Trans-Pecos region mostly relies on groundwater that is several hundred feet below the surface. According to the 2016 Region F Water Plan, most wells are about 1,000 feet deep (FWTRWPG 2016). The Igneous Aquifer is the main source of water for the Big Bend area. It supplies water for the municipal needs of Alpine, Marfa and Fort Davis, as well as some agricultural needs. Recharge of the aquifer occurs with precipitation, but the recharge rate totals inches rather than feet making very clear the need to use our water wisely.
Source: 2016 Far West Texas Regional Water Planning Group Report.
Balmorhea and the Delaware Basin
The Delaware Basin exists within a larger bioregion known as the Chihuahaun Desert, an arid region that receives less than 19-inches of rainfall on an average annual basis. With the exception of Balmorhea Lake, an open water resource fed by the San Solomon Springs, in Reeves County, there is no open water in this region. The majority of the water is sourced from underground, minor aquifers fed by rainfall in the recharge zones in the mountains surrounding the Delaware Basin.
Groundwater contamination can occur due to faulty well casings, faulty well cementing operations, spills, and related well-head operations. Despite best efforts, there are thousands of documented cases of groundwater contamination related to oil and gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing activities. Statistically, with over eight producers, and thousands of wells in the Delaware Basin, groundwater contamination from these activities is more than just a remote possibility. A specific concern lies in operations within Reeves County – Balmorhea State Park, Balmorhea Lake, San Solomon Springs, and interconnectivity to an underground cave and spring system, Phantom Springs, are at risk of loss from oil and gas development in the southern Delaware Basin.
While groundwater contamination with fracking chemicals has been documented to occur, the BBCA has identified an even greater risk of overall water depletion due to hydraulic fracturing activity in the region. It takes about 10 million gallons of water (or about 15 Olympic-sized pools) to frack a single well in the Delaware Basin.
BBCA Water Team
The State of Texas’ “bottom-up” approach to water planning provides citizens and landowners with many tools that can help them protect the water they depend on for drinking, agriculture and recreation. BBCA is working to make the best use of these tools through alliance-building, education, and advocacy. Here are a few of the ways BBCA is seeking to make a difference:
- Working with groundwater conservation districts to set reasonable guidelines (view the GCD map).
- Informing County Commissioners Courts of the importance of fully funding the efforts of groundwater conservation districts
- Hosting symposiums and publishing material to educate local citizens on groundwater management, law, and hydrological systems.
- “Our Water Matters” column in the Big Bend Sentinel and Big Bend Gazette