Homeowners fight to take drilling battle to legislature

WIMBERLEY, Texas -- A group of Hays County homeowners' battle to protect their well water appears to be heading to the Texas State Capitol.

A Houston company called Electro Purification has begun preparations to pump about 1.8 billions of water a year from the Trinity Aquifer to sell to area developments and municipalities, sparking concerns that the magnitude of the pumping will leave hundreds of homes in the vicinity with dry wells.

Hays County Commissioner Will Conley has been spearheading efforts to bring stakeholders together to get the attention of state leaders. He said the easiest, and perhaps quickest fix to the problem is to ask state lawmakers to extend the regulation of the Hays Trinity Groundwater District to the portion of the Trinity Aquifer the company intends to pump, which is currently unregulated.

Conley said his constituents are "not overacting," and he hopes state lawmakers will move quickly.

"There are also streamlining processes you can take in the legislature to make this a law sooner rather than later," Conley said.

Extending the groundwater district's authority would mean Electro Purification would have to follow the same rules and regulations as other western Hays County commercial water users.

Reached by phone Monday, Rep. Jason Isaac, who represents Hays and Blanco counties, said if anything is to get done before Electro Purification begins pumping water in about 18 months, it will need to happen this legislative session.

He said legislation to expand the groundwater district's jurisdiction is one potential course of action, but alternative remedies are being investigated, though he declined to name specifics.

"I don't want to play all my cards at once," Isaac said.

Isaac said he has been studying the issue for about six months and more recently has been holding meetings about the issue "nonstop."

"Up until middle of late of last year, I was not aware that this was even possible," he said. "Why this hasn't been addressed up until this point of time is just beside me."

He called the amount of water Electro Purification hopes to pump "unreal" and called the location of their wells, just beyond the groundwater district's boundary, "disingenuous."

He will host a town hall meeting on the issue at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the Wimberley Community Center.

"I want it to be truly independent where people can come and voice their concerns," said Isaac.

Electro Purification has been invited, though has not confirmed they will attend. Buda City Manager Kenneth Williams has accepted the invitation, according to Isaac. The Buda City Council took steps last week to become customers of Electro Purification. Also expected to attend is a representative of another potential customer, the future Anthem subdivision.

The Rolling Oaks neighborhood is one area which has been very vocal in their opposition to the drilling. The community bulletin board had two signs up Monday, one calling Electro Purification "environmental punks" and another imploring residents to sign an anti-drilling petition.

Resident Amanda Jones said at first, their worries may seem at odds with Texas' proud tradition of upholding private property rights.

"We're respectful, and in Texas, really proud in general of the way that we honor private property rights. But we're suddenly waking up to the fact that you can't separate water the way you can separate property," she said. "We're all drinking out of the same cup."

Another Rolling Oaks resident, Suzanne Teshera, balked at the notion that her well is in jeopardy after the extreme efforts she and her neighbors go through to conserve water.

"We're panicking. It's because we're scared," she said.

Teshera said she fears Electro Purification's plans will run her out of her home and render her retirement property worthless.


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