BELTON — Water is an immense resource to Bell County. Between the two lakes on the surface and two aquifers underground, the county has millions of acre feet of water.
But as the populations booms and the possibility of an extended drought looms, water is becoming one of the most pressing topics at the forefront of elected officials.
And the three men hoping to sit in the Precinct 2 seat of the Bell County Commissioner Court know this.
Incumbent Tim Brown, Harker Heights banker Bobby Whitson and insurance agent Brit Owen are vying to be the next commissioner of Precinct 2, an area that covers Salado, Harker Heights and parts of Killeen. All are Republicans. Neither Whitson nor Owen has held elected office.
All three of the candidates strike a similar tone on water: Local entities need to invest in new technology to shore up existing water supplies and, at the same time, they should promote water conservation.
While Brown, who has dealt with water issues since he joined the Commissioners Court nearly 24 years ago, is open to many innovative water solutions, such as aquifer storage and recovery, he does rule one solution out.
“We’re not going to create any more Lake Beltons or Lake Stillhouses. It’s not possible,” he said of using surface water to solve future supply problems. “So we’re going to have to be smarter long term with the way we use and reuse water.”
Whitson mostly agrees with Brown — except on surface water. He said the county should facilitate conservations on all new technologies, including exploring surface water opportunities.
“We have to keep our fingers on the pulse of water issues in a very broad regard in this area,” Whitson said.
Owen said water is a concern going forward.
“I foresee (water) being a huge problem that we’re going to have to seek some alternative sources for water or improved technology in how to access the water available to us now,” Owen said. “I don’t think there is a single solution that solves the entire problem. I really think we’re going to have to be really conscious to preserve and conserve water.”
The county has to strike a balance between conserving water and promoting economic development, Brown said.
“We’re in pretty good shape,” Brown said, pointing to how the Texas Water Plan shows water supplies can meet the population’s demands until 2050. “But we’re playing defense a lot more.”
One example of Bell County playing defense is its fight against the city of Georgetown.
For the past few years, Brown, along with fellow Commissioner John Fisher, and affected landowners have been engaged in a lawsuit over the Williamson County seat’s takeover of the Chisholm Trail Special Utility District, which supplied water to residents of rural Bell, Williamson and Burnet counties.
“There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s lost the battle twice in court now,” Whitson said. “Whether we like it or not doesn’t really matter anymore.”
The Chisholm Trail situation does hold an important lesson, Whitson said.
“We have to be vigilant that we know all the moving parts and understand what’s going on in the county,” he said.
Brown hoped the controversy surrounding Chisholm Trail would have been wrapped up in a courtroom, but that did not happen.
“The statutory questions have never been examined in a court of law” the commissioner said, adding the Texas Supreme Court declined to hear the case. “They were able to bypass the courts, go through an administrative process at the state level to do the process of (service area) and assets and so forth.”
Chisholm Trail is an issue that Owen gets upset about. He thinks of the people who were expecting to receive water from the defunct supplier and now they won’t with Georgetown, he said.