By Dirk Aaron, General Manager CUWCD
CHANGES IN TEXAS EQUATES TO BIG CHANGES IN BELL COUNTY
Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District has set the 20th Annual Bell County Water Symposium for November 17, 2021, in Belton at the Bell County Expo Center on Loop 121. The theme of this year’s event is “CHANGES IN TEXAS MEAN CHANGES IN BELL COUNTY”.
Because of COVID, we canceled the event in the fall of 2020, but have restarted our annual event by continuing our efforts with our partners: Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Bell County, the Bell County Engineers Office and the Bell County Commissioners Court. We also have additional sponsors who have been very supportive.
Our first speaker of the morning will be Mr. Michael Irlbeck who is with EPCOR an American Company with over 100 years of experience, who work with industry, municipalities, and communities to develop and manage water and wastewater solutions. EPCOR is one of the largest water utility companies in the Southwest U.S. and is a recognized leader in Public-Private Partnership (P3’s) space. Mr. Irlbeck is currently the Business Development Director for EPCOR USA Inc.
Following speakers will be Dr. Roel Lopez, Director with Texas A&M Natural Resource Institute and Dr. Robert Mace, Executive Director, Meadows Center for Water & the Environment at Texas State University. Their shared presentation will focus on the rural trends for land development and what that means for groundwater in Texas. Bell County is experiencing tremendous development of rural lands by fragmentation and subdivisions in an unparalleled fashion with developers depending on groundwater of which is unsustainable.
The Keynote of the Day will be delivered by our own County Judge, the Honorable David Blackburn who will discuss our need for understanding the growth that is here today and coming again tomorrow. Judge Blackburn is a key leader in Bell County who is helping all communities navigate the need to understand many issues related to our expanding population, from the demand for new developments and the need to supply water in a sustainable fashion to the endangered species act. The need for planning has always been a key to future growth, but once we have experienced more than 20% population growth here in Central Texas, the need for water today that was planned for tomorrow is upon us.
We will highlight our day with a special recognition of some stakeholders and longtime leaders from across the county who have been significant in our forward progress since the drought of the 1950’s and the most recent challenges of the past few years. The Board of Directors of Clearwater UWCD look forward to another year of showcasing the importance of both surface water and groundwater to our robust economy.
Clearwater will present data per our most recent studies conducted and funded by the district to address many of the unknowns concerning the depletion of artesian pressure in the Trinity Aquifer in the most southwestern portions of our county. This issue has been discussed in a collaborative effort with our Legislators and the County Judges and Commissioners of both Bell and Williamson counties. Our concerns that the true pumping numbers of groundwater in Bell, Williamson and Northern Travis Counties are still relevant and the issue has seen the light of day because Clearwater has funded the necessary science ourselves to see what the regional pumping of groundwater is. Yes, the Counties to the south use more than 42,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year from the Edwards BFZ and Trinity aquifers as compared to the Bell County used less than 5,000 acre-feet in 2020. As population trends in both counties continue an upward trajectory, management, coupled with planning is the key to measured growth.
The Drawdown Analysis of the Middle and Lower Trinity Aquifers in Bell, Travis and Williamson counties validates that extreme declines continue at nearly 10 feet per year and if the trend continues pumps will likely have to be lowered in wells with water levels reaching the top of the aquifer in about 30 years in some of the higher developments in the areas to the west of I-35.
In northern portions of Williamson County, the Middle Trinity Aquifer water levels are near the top of the aquifer. Landowners in this area have reported difficulties accessing groundwater from the Middle Trinity. It is likely that many well owners will soon, if they do not already, have pumps set near the bottom of their wells and will have to adjust to limited groundwater availability or find alternative water supplies. Conditions in the Lower Trinity are better than in the Middle Trinity, but the Lower Trinity is the more expensive alternative that may not exist in some areas due to the unknown structure and challenges to drilling. A robust Risk Assessment is being conducted and is being evaluated by the district and landowners before we can continue expending resources before drilling wells for rural development. The Water Symposium will have a panel of experts to discuss the science of understanding the limited sustainability of groundwater during these challenging times.
This year’s event will assist local leaders and concerned citizens, realign their thoughts back to the importance of water and its limited amounts as we have all been somewhat distracted these past two years due to COVID. “Water Availability” is the most pressing issue when it comes to maintaining and guiding our robust economy.
Just two years ago, our Board President, Leland Gersbach stated that Clearwater is a leader in fostering local collaboration and he opened the 2019 Water Symposium by focusing on the biggest issue in our region and that is “Water will be what moves us forward or holds us back.” Well, this issue is still upon us and local landowners who depend on groundwater should be mindful of the need to understand our limited resource here in Central Texas.
The symposium will be held in Belton at the Bell County Expo Center – Assembly Hall on November 17th from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Pre-registration is required by calling Clearwater UWCD at 254-933-0120 or calling the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Belton at 254-933-5305. The event is free of charge with lunch sponsored by several local companies and area consulting firms. The schedule at-a-glance can be viewed by clicking here.
Dirk Aaron has been the general manager for Clearwater since June of 2011. Prior to that he served as an extension agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for more than 30 years. Contact Dirk at firstname.lastname@example.org