County seeking water district

January 8, 2007

Wise County Messenger

By Skip Nichols

Wise County commissioners made a major commitment Tuesday for a groundwater protection district.

Commissioners and Judge Bill McElhaney unanimously approved a memorandum supporting legislation in the current session to form a district with Parker, Hood and Montague counties.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said time is of the essence, since the Legislature kicked off its session last week.

“The timeline is tough,” said Burns who with Precinct 1 Commissioner Robert Rankin and public works director Tom Goode went to Austin last week to visit with Brian Sledge, an attorney who specializes in groundwater districts. Sledge was part of a workshop on groundwater districts in Decatur, which was coordinated by Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford).

Burns said the group had gone to Austin with the intention of seeking advice for forming a single-county district in light of a declaration by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. That declaration said Wise – along with several other North Texas counties – were priority groundwater management areas.

That designation triggers a two-year window for the county to set up a groundwater district or simply let the state place the county in a district.

King and other state officials said that Wise County would likely become a part of a 13-county district, where the political and geologic differences are vast. Such a district would be funded from taxes.

If Wise County is able to convince Parker, Hood and Montague counties to join it, there would be more local control, said Burns and Rankin. Perhaps most important, voters would get to have a say in the district – including whether it would be funded by fees or taxes.

Burns said he has gotten favorable responses from a couple of Parker County commissioners and Hood County Judge Andy Rash. Goode said Montague County officials, including city of Bowie officials, expressed interest in the district.

“A multi-county district would provide some economy of scale, especially for the taxpayer,” Burns said.

“We have to get people on board (by Jan. 30),” Rankin said. “If we can’t, then we need to proceed with a single-county district.”

King and state Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) have vowed to carry the Wise County legislation this session.

Wise County’s designation as a priority groundwater management area by TCEQ came after an extensive study of aquifers in the North Texas area, including the Trinity Aquifer.

The study noted that “millions of gallons of water are used in the drilling of wells and the stimulation of fractures in the Barnett Shale. … This water demand is not anticipated to decrease over the 30-year planning horizon. … Shortages are projected for Wise.

“More groundwater is being withdrawn than recharged to aquifers. At present, water user groups in Wise are collectively using the Trinity aquifer at quantities over … estimates for safe supply. The past and continued over development of aquifers from the continued urbanization of the area threatens water supplies for rural domestic, municipal and small water providers who depend on groundwater sources.”

In making Wise County a priority groundwater management area, the study concluded that protecting existing groundwater supplies is a critical issue … because the delivery of alternative surface water supplies is not projected to be economically feasible.”