A panel discussion on the impact of SAWS desalination project on the Atascosa County water supply was held at the Pleasanton Community Center, Monday evening, July 21.
Concerns were expressed by a local geologist, some Evergreen Water District directors and other Atascosa County citizens.
Panelists were Morris Cowley, Poteet citizen; Geologist Arthur Troell, Pleasanton, a retired SAC Professor; Larry Fox, Director on the Board of the Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District (EUWCD); Jay Troell, also a Director on the EUWCD.
Cowley began by pointing out, on a map, the location of the proposed SAWS Desalination Plant near the Atascosa-Bexar County line. He showed a diagram of the Carrizo, Upper and Lower Wilcox water tables in that area.
“In 1900 the aquifer was full – it was an artesian situation, running over in that area. In the early to mid 1900s a lot of wells were being drilled and were artesian wells. As time went on and more wells were drilled and stopped flowing, the water table declined to the point we find today,” said Cowley, pointing to a chart.
He continued, “Here we are today with a lowered water table. In their brackish water program (SAWS) will drill into the Wilcox brackish water table and that’s brought into the desalination plant and on into San Antonio as fresh water. When the wells start pumping, that’s going to reduce the pressure underneath the bed and that’s going to allow the Carrizo water to flow into the Wilcox.
“They (SAWS) have 13 wells drilled right now in Bexar County that are close to the Atascosa County line but will be drawing water from underneath Atascosa, Bexar and Wilson Counties.”
Jay Troell (EUWCD) was on the agenda next and showed a diagram of the drawdown of brackish water tables in Atascosa County. It was based on SAWS Expanded Brackish Water engineering study withdrawing 50 thousand acre feet per year from Wilson County.
Jay explained what could happen to the Carrizo Aquifer during the desalination project.
He mentioned the potential leakage between the Wilcox and Carrizo sands based on studies of the geology of the two stratas.
“Public studies of basic geologic evidence done in the past have shown a connection exists between the Carrizo fresh water aquifer and the Wilcox brackish water aquifer,” said Jay.
Jay continued, “Several hundreds of thousands of dollars of studies sponsored and paid for by the Evergreen and the Texas Water Development Board developed Carrizo-Wilcox models show leakage between the two formations. He mentioned other clarification studies.
“I saw no scientific evidence from SAWS Science Committee meetings showing an impervious barrier between the two aquifers.
“As you can see, the citizens of Atascosa County were rightfully concerned about a large brackish water well field causing damage to our fresh water supply.
“The Evergreen Brackish Groundwater Rules were written by a committee of geologists, engineers, directors and concerned citizens of the district. The Brackish Groundwater Rules established by Evergreen are reasonable and necessary to protect the Carrizo Aquifer.”
Larry Fox (EUWCD) talked about brackish water and how it’s going to affect our Carrizo Aquifer. It all starts in 2006. “The District rules in affect at that time would not allow the production of brackish water that they wanted,” said Fox.
Fox continued, “Evergreen was required to create special rules to allow this project to go forward. And also in the lease agreement that they provided to the landowners for this project, stipulated that any water produced from a brackish water well would be considered brackish regardless of the total dissolved solids. Total dissolved solids is how they determined whether it is fresh water or brackish water. The only way brackish water can become fresh is for the Carrizo to leak down into the Wilcox.”
SAWS started drilling two wells, one near Verdi and one over by Lytle and people became concerned.
“Every city in the county with the exception of Campbellton passed a resolution opposing that project. Our County Judge and the Commissioners’ Court also opposed it. Businessmen and ordinary citizens of Atascosa County objected to it. So, because of those objections, in October of 2007, Evergreen cancelled that project, the brackish project.
“In 2008, Evergreen created brackish rules which provided some safeguards for the Carrizo Aquifer if any other brackish water projects would occur.
“In 2009, San Antonio Water System included legislative action as part of their management plan in response to our brackish rules. The purpose was to change the laws in Austin to take away our ability to protect our brackish groundwater,” said Fox.
Fox then referred to a Public TV program which quoted SAWS saying only a handful of people in Atascosa County were opposed to the brackish water project.
At this time, Jay Troell added, “In my mind, his comment was ‘a small group of fearful and parochial people’ were against it.”
Fox continued, “Last year, two bills were introduced from San Antonio that would, number one, take permitting of brackish ground water away from groundwater districts. And, number two, it would extend the permit from five years to thirty years.
“Permits are limited by rule to five years to allow groundwater districts time to react to changes in the aquifers and make appropriate changes in permits before more serious conditions can develop. For this reason, permits should remain at a five-year limit. It is an important part in protecting our aquifers.
Fox said, “Groundwater districts were originally created to do three things, conserve, protect and manage groundwater resources for the benefit of the residents of that district. District rules are the main vehicle used to do that.
“The South Bexar County Brackish Water Project which is currently underway, is due to come online in 2016. SAWS again came to Evergreen and wanted to change the interlocal agreement that was signed in 2002 when the aquifer storage recovery (ASR) was established.
“There were two purposes for it. The first was to replace a supposedly ‘lost’ map that established the boundaries of the ASR in South Bexar County. They wanted to replace that with another map which effectively expanded that ASR to include all of the properties that they own. Some of that property is in Atascosa County and Wilson County. Expanding those boundaries would allow brackish wells to be drilled in the Evergreen District.
“The other thing they wanted to do was to get Evergreen to agree that they would have no input during the course of that brackish water project. Why? SAWS benchmarking predicted a drawdown of the Carrizo.
“When Evergreen would not approve the proposed change as submitted, a senior SAWS manager said ‘we will just have to go our own way’.”
Fox continued, “South Bexar County has no water district there. They’re an unregulated area. SAWS evidently believed they can do whatever they want in South Bexar County with no consequences. The biggest property owner and the biggest producer of Carrizo in South Bexar County is San Antonio Water System. They also store Edwards water in the Carrizo Sands. When conservation measures are in effect they pump the stored Edwards water back to San Antonio. When they do, they blend Carrizo water with the Edwards at the rate of 6400 a/f per year.
“A drop in Carrizo water levels in Bexar County has an effect and a static level in Evergreen wells.
“We’ve been producing water out of the Carrizo for about 110 years. The Carrizo has been depleted over those years and it continues to be depleted. (Fox showed a chart).
“It’s already affecting our irrigators, farmers, ranchers because as the water level drops, it takes more money to go deeper and the profit margin decreases. So that’s affecting our economy. It will continue to do so. At some point in the future it’s going to put some of the irrigators out of business. The cost of replacing a well these days is astronomical. A lot of people won’t be able to afford that.”
Fox mentioned that SAWS wanted a change in the brackish water rules. “It seemed like a minor change but what it would do is it would prevent Evergreen from permanently reducing or stopping the pumping of that proposed desalination water program. Our brackish water rules are reasonable.
“Evergreen has the ability to reduce or stop the pumping if it does adversely impact the Carrizo Aquifer.”
Fox said, “The only permanent solution to SAWS water problem is to go to the coast and desalinate the sea water.”
Jay Troell commented, “The City of Corpus Christi has a plan to build a seawater desalination plant. I suggested at the Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination meeting that the City of San Antonio and City of Corpus Christi pool their resources to build a large seawater desalination plant and San Antonio build a pipeline from the coast to their city. I estimated it would cost about the same as their planned brackish water program. They can take it right out of the Gulf. Seawater desalination does not require a well field or disposal well.
Fox said, “San Antonio’s proposed pipeline from Burleson County is 140 miles. A pipeline from San Antonio to the coast would be only 130 miles. It may not be cheaper to build because it would probably be of larger diameter, but in the long run, would solve the water problem permanently.”
Geologist Arthur Troell was on the agenda next and presented a series of very informative diagrams and maps related to our areas water resources. He showed the continuing decline of our Carrizo Aquifer in Atascosa County. Arthur showed how much the water levels dropped from 1904 through 1965 and showed where wells quit flowing.
His well-illustrated diagram showed the declines from 1965 to 1999 and then 2013.
Referring to the decline, Arthur said, “The point is this, the Carrizo is a wonderful aquifer but it is being pumped faster than it is being recharged.”
He showed where SAWS drilled their well in 2007. “The then manager of the McCoy Water Supply Corporation called the manager of Evergreen and told him ‘you should let folks know why a well is being drilled into the Lower Wilcox by SAWS’. They went to the County Judge who asked for an explanation from SAWS. The first meeting was at the Community Center in Verdi. A bunch of guys got out wearing fancy suits and tried to explain that they were ‘going to come take this water because you’re not going to use it’.
“That’s kind of like saying, ‘you’ve got two cars in your driveway and you’re not using one and I’m going to come over and take a car from you’.
“The next meeting was at Lytle a couple of weeks later where they tried to convince us that there was a thick solid shale between the Carrizo and the Wilcox. We then did a geological outcrop study of the Carrizo and the Wilcox in the three-county region and found interlayered sand and shale between the Carrizo and Lower Wilcox – and it can leak.”
He mentioned that the Wilcox isn’t that brackish. Cows can drink it. We can raise certain crops with it.
“SAWS says it’s salty, but it is actually mildly brackish. They say it’s salt water and that is done to convince you that the water in the Wilcox has little value. The fact is, it is good and it is valuable,” said Arthur.
Arthur said, “I want to look at Bexar County, population-wise, in 1950 they were at 500 thousand, in 1981, one million, 2003 Bexar County population was one and a half million and in 2020 they should be at two million. By 2037, Bexar County population could be around two and a half million. You can see what’s happening. Bexar County is growing and they’re after their neighbor’s water.”
He showed population figures in Atascosa County. Arthur said, “You can see where Atascosa County was, population wise, in 1950. It was almost 20 thousand and then declined until 1970 when we were about 19 thousand. After that we started growing again and here we are in 2013 with 46 thousand people. You project that growth rate out and by 2050 we will be about 86,000.
“We can have a bright future, but we’re going to need groundwater. People in San Antonio are going to need food. I don’t think they’re going to live on anything else. So, we raise crops, we raise cattle and we provide jobs for our young people and feed those city folks, but to to so, we must have an abundant water supply. So, SAWS should pony-up and go to the coast and desalinate seawater like Israel does and leave their rural neighbors alone.”
This panel discussion was sponsored by the Brush Country Tea Party and coordinated by Caroline George, secretary, as a public service.