The House Committee on Natural Resources met on April 15th to hear testimony on Interim Charge Number 1 relating to the evaluation of groundwater regulations and permitting processes throughout the state, including the role of state agencies in groundwater management, the development of desired future conditions (DFCs), and the adoption of groundwater management plans in relation to regional and state water planning.


Robert Mace, Deputy Executive Administrator, Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), noted that HB 1763 (79th R), fundamentally changed management of groundwater in the state. As required under the legislation, the Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) in Groundwater Management Areas (GMAs) have and are meeting to conduct joint planning defining desired future conditions (DFCs) of the groundwater resources within the GMA and reviewing groundwater management plans and accomplishments. The DFCs are due to Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) no later than September 1st. Some districts have already submitted their DFCs. The TWDB is responsible for calculating or verifying the managed available groundwater (MAG) based on hydrologic studies and submitted DFCs. The TWDB will deliver MAG values to GCDs and regional water planning groups for inclusion in their plans.


Currently, all but one region has their plans out for public comment. The TWDB plans to review and approve regional plans in Oct-Dec 2010, and have a “mini-water plan” by January 2011. A public hearing on the state water plan will be held in October 2011. The Board will present the state water plan to the legislature in January 2012.


Lawmakers during the hearing tackled several issues. For one, members on the committee commented on the relationship between groundwater and spring flow and questioned how much exempt use impacts the planning process.  Small wells, primarily used for domestic and livestock purposes, wells used for oil and gas production, and wells existing at the time of creation of the GCD are generally exempt from permitting. Groundwater Conservation Districts are required to permit, to the extent possible, up to the MAG number. However, many districts have exempt use that comprises a considerable part of their total use which remains a point of contention for some. Some witnesses contended that MAGs should not include exempt well usage.


The Honorable Robert Puente, President of the San Antonio Water System, testified he would like to see a stakeholder be able to enter the civil litigation system including the appellate process, if needed. He advanced the suggestion that a trial should be held on neutral ground such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  Puente urged the committee to consider legislation that would give the TWDB more authority to have a more meaningful role in the regional water development process. He furthered noted more guidance should be offered on how to arrive at DFCs. Other witnesses from varying water authorities testified on the need for coordination between the DFCs and the regional planning process and that DFCs should be used a tools giving the districts flexibility. DFCs should be used as planning tools not scientific observation, argued Russell Johnson, Partner at McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore.


During the hearing it was asked if staffing is still a challenge that TWDB faces with respect to implementation of HB 1763 (79th R). Robert Mace from the TWDB responded that at this time they feel the legislature has given them the appropriate tools and means to continue. Mace did note a challenge facing the TWDB is accuracy with models. However, he notes, the Board is continuously working to improve their accuracy.