I have great concerns about the quality of our water. Water is life and once it is contaminated, there is no going back, said Atascosa County resident Janice Jones.
She shared these words at the Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District Board of Directors meeting on March 31. As reported in last weeks Pleasanton Express, the board voted to reclassify the permit amendment for Sand Mining of Texas from irrigation use to industrial use. EUWCD staff explained there are two wells on this property. Total maximum annual production from the well will be 316 acre feet and the well will produce from the Carrizo Aquifer.
The board is comprised of: Steve Snider, Clifton Stacy, Blain Schorp, Frank Kruciak, Jason Peeler, Diane Savage, Craig Nieschwietz, Larry Fox and Jay Troell. Voting against was director Troell, who stated that his conscience does not allow him to vote for it.
Directors not in attendance were Peeler and Nieschwietz. Following the vote, the board voted unanimously to add the stipulation that Sand Mining of Texas will be required to notify the district prior to any inclu- sion of focculants, coating, chemicals or other addi- tives to the process.
Company receives permit
Sand Mining of Texas is the company which recently received its permit by rule from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to build a sand mine processing facility in the Bruce and Old Applewhite Roads area in Atascosa County and parts of Bexar County.
Before hearing public comments, Monique Norman, Attorney for EUWCD told everyone that the board and staff understand everyones concerns.
We submitted a comment letter to TCEQ, that I am sure many of you have. We have a very limited application in front of us today. We have to follow our rules in Chapter 36 of the water code. The only application we have in front of us today are for two wells, irrigation wells. The production, the wells itself are not being changed at all. It is only changing the use from agricultural irrigation to industrial, so we have limited authority to do anything but that. Chapter 36 is very specific, we have to treat all beneficial uses, type of use and location of use the same. That is what our rules say and that is what we are doing today. So although we understand the concerns and we are listening to the concerns, we do not have authority over land use. The legislation has not given that. We have authority over water quantity, limited authority over water quality in conjunction with TCEQ.
Not Just Dust Attorney
Rob Salmon, attorney representing the Not Just Dust- Bruce Rd. citizens group was the first to speak at the meeting. He said the members were there today to protest the permit amendment pertaining to permit use.
We believe that the board has the discretion to grant Not Just Dust as a group, personally affected party status under rule 5.2 of the district rules, said Salmon.
He spoke about some of the groups concerns, for example, the increase in the taking of groundwater which would affect the rights of other groundwater owners in the district and the environmental impact of the industrial use of the water. Salmon said they have newspaper articles quoting Sand Mining of Texas individuals stating that flocculants will be used in the processing of their sand.
Flocullants or not?
At that point, director Troell interrupted and read the letter Atascosa County Judge Hurley (who also attended the water district meeting) sent to TCEQ in February, which expresses concerns regarding Sand Mining of Texas.
One of Hurleys questions to TCEQ was, We would like to know what chemicals they are adding in their process and what this will do to air quality, groundwater impact and downstream impact.
Troell read TCEQs response, which states no flocculants, coatings, chemicals or other additives will be used on site at this time.
So who is telling the truth? asked Troell.
Salmon said he appreciated him bringing that up and that he has newspaper articles stating flocculants are commonly used and the company will likely use them. He also said there is an email he had dated Feb. 20, 2017, from a Sand Mining of Texas rep stating, It is common practice in the sand mining industry and washing process to use clarifying agents commonly referred to as flocullants.
Salmon later added, We would like the board to take action to place conditions on the permit, that would require them to come back and make the proper representation of these flocculants, that is one of the options.
Salmon was also concerned that these chemicals will be introduced into the soil and eventually water in the district and then contaminate the groundwater.
He shared the groups mission and said, The purpose of Not Just Dust is to defend the integrity of the environment and protect local residents from potentially abusive practices in Atascosa County including protection from practices which could deplete or contaminate the water supply.
Not Just Dust President Russell Wilson shared how the group was first formed when they learned a frac sand mine company was coming in. He read how, The district shall take appropriate measures to discontinue activities that are causing or potentially cause groundwater contamination.
A total of 343 people in the group have contacted TCEQ expressing their concerns and the impact on the water and the area, explained Wilson. This includes Judge Hurley, the water district board, county commissioners, Senator Uresti and most in the crowd.
Wilson read a list of citations from the State of Wisconsin, regarding Preferred Sands such as, Failure to notify Department of Natural Resources of facilitys expansion, production increase.
Wilson added, If you look at the process design, it has floc-sensors. Why do you need floc-sensors if you arent going to use flocculants?
He also addressed the Channel 4 interview (which is posted on the Not Just Dust-Bruce Rd. Facebook page), in which Preferred Sands President T.J. Doyle states the company will use flocculants. When Wilson asks company reps if they are going to have a coating facility here, the response is not direct.
Said Wilson, The response is, Not at this time. This leaves the door open for a processing facility. This sentiment was also expressed during the meeting by directors Troell and Fox.
The citizens group is requesting an environmental impact study, drought contingency plan, monitor wells, etc. As someone in the construction business, Wilson asked what the company was going to line the sediment pond with and was told it will not be lined.
What chemicals will be used?
We need to find out what chemicals they are going to use. We need these answers. I am afraid we are going to have a facility move in as a wet sand mine and then the next thing we know, it is a wet sand mine processing frac sand, coating frac sand with chemicals involved, said Wilson.
He then read the names of the many affected parties, as each stood up in the crowd.
These are the people that are going to be affected. These are the people that are here, to ask you to take a second look at this and pay attention to what is going on. We already know the sand mine is coming. There is already another one out there waiting.
Another resident speaking was Larry Bartek.
Sand mining has been in Atascosa County for longer than I have. The reason I stand before you today is not that I have a problem with sand mining, nor the process of fracking, nor frac-sand mining. My concern is that frac-sand mining or more specifically frac-sand manufacturing, is a process new to this area and relatively new to the State of Texas, said Bartek.
The Queen City, Carrizo and Wilcox Aquifers are in high demand! This water resource must be protected, in quantity and in quality! No one person, no city, no collective group has authority over the use of this water but the Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District.
Bartek said he respected them greatly and he respectfully challenged them to do their job.
Effects will be devastating
Resident Janice Jones said she planned to retire in what she considers paradise, but the sand mines effects will be as detrimental as the fairy tale about an evil witch who casts an evil spell upon the land. The effects will be devastating to their quality of life, water, air, livestock and wildlife habitat that surrounds the area.
With these sands removed and not reclaimed, what will protect the Carrizo and Wilcox recharge zones in this area? Jones asked.
She said the frac sand industry is a rapid-growing industry and citations issued when a company is in violation are meaningless, resulting in only a slap on the wrist.
Fourth generation landowner Oscar Korus commented how once the mine comes in, the lay of the land will be 90 ft. lower than what it is now. He asked, Wont that be a lake? He wanted to know how the operation will affect the eco-system and recharge zone. He asked the board to look at all aspects of how the operation will affect the aquifer and its future.
EUWCD Board President Steve Snider said, I feel like I can assure you those same concerns and many more are on the mind of every board member up here. I also assure you we will strive to do whatever we can to prevent things like that from happening, said Steve Snider. Were limited on what our controls are. Thanks again for all of you speaking.
What permits are required?
Three Preferred Sands representatives were in attendance at the meeting, along with lawyer Rus Johnson. Not Just Dust Vice-President Jessie Hardy asked Johnson what water permits they are required to get from TCEQ. She said that everytime they ask a question, all they get in response is rambling.
Mr. Hardy explained how, his water level right now is at 140 ft. If they take out 100 feet of the sand out, instead of 140 ft. of filter, he will have 40 ft. over that recharge zone.
Another person in the audience said putting an industrial complex right on top of the recharge zone that affects hundreds of thousands of people downstream does not make any sense.
After the hearing to approve the permit amendments, The board then discussed the environmental impact study relating to Sand Mining of Texas operations.
Director Fox said he thinks Sand Mining of Texas has not provided TCEQ with their total business plan. He believes the company is gaming the system.
They are doing it in increments and that is so they can get it done, said Fox.
He noted that he has been to four different sand mine operations in Atascosa and Bexar County and the type of equipment Sand Mining of Texas will be using is only found where they are going to have a frac sand chemical component.
That is Preferred Sands business, producing frac sand everywhere they are. So it is just the logical next step in the progression.
He told commissioners early on that because as a county rep on this board, he was against this project because of its location and the sensitivity over the recharge zone.
Protecting our water
I talked to the water quality rep from TCEQ and I asked him specifically, Is there any other incident of a frac sand operation or a mining sand operation that is going in directly over a recharge zone?
The man responded no, not to his knowledge in the whole state of Texas.
Part of our duties is to protect our water resources, said Fox.
If contamination occurs, it cannot be undone. Fox also addressed how they could benefit to get some changes done in the state of Texas, as well as the TV interview with T.J. Doyle and the use of chemicals.
They are not authorized currently to use any of them, flocculants included, so what does that say? To me that says either they are going to change the rules or they are going to do it anyway, one or the other. I think the plan is, change the permit to allow it to happen at a later date.