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Clearwater challenges permit for development’s water use

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Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011 12:00 pm

By Andy Ross

Killeen Daily Herald

Bell County's groundwater conservation district is challenging a water permit being sought for a series of aquifer-supplied "containment ponds" being proposed as part of a development project in northern Williamson County.

On Friday, the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District issued a letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality asking for a contested case hearing on the water-use permit being sought by Southwest Land Services.

Southwest, a Leander-based development company, is seeking to construct the ponds approximately 10 miles south of the Bell County line near Florence. They would cover approximately 50 acres and have a combined storage capacity of 617 acre-feet of water drawn through four wells into the Middle Trinity Aquifer, according to the water-use permit application submitted to TCEQ.

The letter contesting the permit was issued in part, said leaders of Clearwater, due to the volume of groundwater that could be pumped in such close proximity to Bell County. Also relevant in the matter is the fact Williamson County does not have a groundwater conservation district.

"We are not trying to interfere in another county," Clearwater Board member Judy Parker said. "Our approach is we want to make sure that what's going on there is not going to affect Bell County residents and the desired future conditions in Bell County."

In the permit application, the water sources are also called "aesthetic enhancement ponds" and are being planned as part of a larger 600-acre "mixed-used master-planned community." David Singleton, the president of Southwest Land Services, could not be reached for comment by press time.

This past Tuesday during a Clearwater board meeting, the district's geoscientist, Randy Williams, said there does appear to be a potential for the project causing aquifer drawdowns that adversely impact Bell County.

In the comments portion of the district's letter, specific concerns about the Southwest project are laid out, one being the possible affects on desired future conditions. Established under House Bill 1763, DFCs are figures that groundwater conservation districts must obtain in the process of determining acceptable drawdown levels of their region's aquifers.

Another concern in the letter centers on the amount of groundwater that would be needed each year to replace water lost in the ponds through evaporation. In Southwest's permit, that figure is placed at 225-acre-feet per year.

More generally, the letter expresses concern that the pond complex is not in line with conservation strategies laid out in the state's water plan.

"Pumping groundwater into surface ponds where approximately 35 percent of the water is lost annually to evaporation is not practicing conservation and is not in line with the Regional Water Plan or the State Water Plan" reads a portion of the letter.

During Clearwater's meeting, Williams noted that he is still working on compiling information about the proposed wells.

"There is more we don't know than we actually do know," Williams said.

Asked about the letter being sent on Friday, new Clearwater Board President Leland Gersbach reiterated William's sentiments that more information is needed.

"At this point we are just trying to determine if it (the project) is going to affect wells in southern Bell County," Gersbach said. "Right now we don't know if it's going to affect us or not."

Contact Andy Ross at aross@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468. Follow him on Twitter at KDHeducation.

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