texas groundwater news august 2018

Out of Sight, Out of Water: The U.S. and Mexico Have Only Just Begun to Grapple with the Aquifers They Share

  • “Meanwhile, the US and Mexico barely even know about their shared groundwater. The two nations only officially recognize four cross-border aquifers.” [The linked document doesn’t support this statement, quote: “A binational aquifer quantity and quality assessment program has been initiated, pursuant to the U.S.-Mexican Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Act (P.L. 109-448, 42 U.S.C. §1962 note); four border aquifers were identified as priorities for study under the legislation.”]
  • “…Rosario Sanchez, a Texas A&M University hydrologist who has spent her academic life seeking out transboundary aquifers that aren’t yet on maps, has identified 36. Of those, 15 are shared between Texas and Mexico.”
  • “As far back as 1973, the International Boundary and Water Commission, a joint US-Mexico body that governs border water, added a clause to their water-sharing agreement that acknowledged a need for groundwater rules that both countries could abide. “
  • “Edward Drusina, the longtime US IBWC commissioner who was recently removed from office by the Trump administration, says Sanchez’s research sparked the IBWC to finally tiptoe toward conversations about the potentially dozens of transboundary aquifers that they’d never before considered.”
  • “The Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, pumps 3 million to 5 million gallons of treated sewage a day down four wells … the water … seeps through porous lava rock and then flows into the Pacific Ocean, a half-mile to the southwest.”
  • “If the treatment plant flushed its wastewater directly into the Pacific, through a pipe, it would need a Clean Water Act permit to do so. … But the movement of pollutants through groundwater into a river, lake, or ocean is a legal grey zone … generally not covered by the landmark federal pollution law.”
  • “Yet, in this case, … the federal court upheld a lower court’s ruling that these discharges are indeed regulated by the Clean Water Act.”
  • “Legal experts say that the so-called “conduit theory” has far-reaching consequences for water law and policy, for preventing pollution, and for water and electric utilities, which may see their liability increase.”
  • “At least half a dozen cases that make similar arguments about groundwater as a conduit are now in federal appeals court.”
  • “What is interesting about the Maui case is that the EPA filed a brief in 2016 supporting the conduit theory. The EPA claimed that sites that discharge to groundwater with a “direct hydrological connection” to a regulated waterway should be considered point sources.”
  • “The Ninth Circuit … agreed with the EPA but not with its reasoning. They instead offered a slightly different definition, concluding that the connection must be “fairly traceable” …”

Farmers’ Almanac promising ‘stinging cold’ Texas winter

  • “According to the Farmers’ Almanac, which uses a formula developed in 1818 to make long-range weather predictions, this year’s oncoming winter season will be anything but mild.”
  • “For Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, the almanac predicts “stinging cold, average precipitation.” However, during the month of December, above-normal precipitation is expected in the South. The almanac also predicts that heavy rain will kick off fall in Texas in early October and bring with it lower temperatures along the Gulf Coast.”
  • “The Farmers’ Almanac warns that “teeth-chattering” cold is expected nationwide and that significant snowfalls are expected for parts of every zone in the country. “


A War Over Water in the Southwest: Breakneck development and oil and gas production are draining aquifers shared by the two states

  • “Any landowner in the Lone Star State, the measure declares, can use or sell as much oil, gas, water or other resource that lies beneath his or her land – regardless how the deposit might spread across property lines.” [ummm: Wrong! …although rule of capture for groundwater in Loving County applies.]
  • “Dunn says he’s found at least seven hoses on public lands draped across state lines, carrying potentially millions of gallons of water a day from an underground aquifer to oil and gas operations.”
  • [There’s quite a bit in here about Wimberley and Electro-Purification.]
  • “The chances of a political solution – on either side of the border – are slim at best. The rule of capture is settled law that neither Democrats nor Republicans in Austin seem interested in revisiting.” [#truth]

Texas City Offers Industry a Choice: Pay an Exemption Fee or Face Higher Water Surcharges

  • “…the town of Corpus Christi, Texas, may be implementing what it believes will be a solution: offering large-scale industrial companies a $0.25 drought surcharge exemption fee [per 1,000 gallons].”
  • “The drought surcharge exemption would be put into effect beginning Oct. 1. With money from the surcharge, the city will look at developing alternate water supplies, including seawater desalination, groundwater, and aquifer storage and recovery.”
  • “Other cities have experimented with different water-assurance measures. But one recent study indicated that a self-imposed fee on groundwater could work better then government regulations. The study, from the University of Colorado Boulder, was based on an initiative in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where several hundred farmers voted to self-impose a fee on groundwater – typically free – back in 2011. “

Nebraska lawmakers to address fast-spreading tree problem

  • “Nebraska lawmakers are looking for new ways to fight a fast-spreading tree species that crowds out other plants, destroys valuable ranchland and threatens the Great Plains from Texas to the Dakotas.”
  • “Eastern red cedar trees are native to the Plains but have spread out of control without the natural prairie fires that kept them in check centuries ago. The trees suck up sunlight and groundwater at the expense of other native plants and turn grasslands into barren patches of dirt.”
  • “Conservationists have dubbed it “the green glacier” that started in Texas and Oklahoma and swept north into Kansas, Nebraska, western Iowa and the Dakotas.”

Honey Creek, A Pristine Hill Country Stream, Could Soon See Treated Sewage

  • “Developers planning a subdivision of more than 2,300 homes in Comal County want to build a sewage treatment plant to discharge into one of the most pristine, spring-fed streams left in the Hill Country.”
  • “It’s just going to turn it into a cesspool,” Gluesenkamp said. “I’m not exaggerating here.”
  • “The TCEQ considers the baseline conditions in the receiving stream, the physical and hydrological characteristics of the stream, water body uses, and the associated water quality standards that protect those uses,” TCEQ spokeswoman Marty Otero said in an email.
  • “Gluesenkamp said the discharge likely would not affect Honey Creek Cave, where the creek flows up from underground. The cave and springs that feed the creek help keep it at a relatively constant temperature – cool in the summer and warm in the winter.”
  • “The issue of how an influx of sewage lines and plants would affect beloved Hill Country oases is not unique to Honey Creek.”
  • “In Wimberly, a plan to build a sewage pipeline near Blue Hole Regional Park has drawn fierce opposition. In its last session, a Texas Senate committee considered a bill that would have limited treated sewage discharge into streams that flow into the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.”


  • “…the city is seeking grant funding to shepherd a potable-reuse plant through the remainder of a design process; water-utility officials think they can break ground on the plant “in the next few years”…”
  • “…water levels in the Hueco Bolson, the aquifer that quenched booming El Paso and Juárez, were dropping by 1.5 ft per year.”
  • “El Paso and Juárez were the same city until 1846, when American troops moved in, occupying sections of land along the Rio Grande that were part of Mexico at the time. The cities were cleaved in two, but their water source never separated.”
  • “In 1999, El Paso and Juárez signed a groundwater-sharing agreement. It marked a rare and possibly unprecedented transboundary collaboration.”
  • “In the 1980s, El Paso began treating wastewater to the point where it would be considered safe enough for human contact and then delivering it to unlined ponds, from where it would percolate back into the Hueco Bolson. As the water seeps through the ground—a slow process that takes more than a year—layers of rock and soil scrub out contaminants along the way, and the reclaimed water mixes with the groundwater in the Hueco Bolson.” [They actually started with injection wells and have been switching to unlined ‘ponds’ {I put ponds in quotes because the water doesn’t stand for long.}]
  • “The project—coupled with El Pasoans using less water than before—made up for the fact that, combined, Juárez and El Paso were pulling more water out of the aquifer than could naturally be replenished. As of now, Texas reports that Hueco Bolson declines have stabilized.”
  • “In 2013, the city polled its water customers, and 84% said they were ready to drink the recycled waste. By 2016, 89% were on board.”

SwRI investigates new techniques to estimate groundwater recharge

  • “Southwest Research Institute scientists are investigating using the latest remote-sensing technology to assess groundwater recharge more accurately. “
  • “Groundwater supplies drinking water for about half of the U.S. population, including 99 percent of the rural population.”
  • “”When managing groundwater resources, particularly in more arid environments, the greatest uncertainty lies in recharge rates,” said Dr. Ronald Green, a groundwater hydrologist at SwRI.  [#truth]
  • “The SwRI team also integrates data from two new satellite systems, the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) platform and the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS).”

Fracking Using Up Scarce Water in Texas Basin

  • “…a new study has found that water usage for hydraulic fracturing has increased nearly ninefold in the semi-arid region over a five-year period.”
  • “According to the study, the Permian Basin used 42,500 cubic meters per hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, well in 2016 – the most water of all the regions – and experienced an increase of nearly 800 percent of water usage per fracking well during the study period.”
  • “The Duke study found that in addition to an increase in water use, the salty groundwater that results from the fracking process – known as flowback and produced water – has increased by up to 1,440 percent.”
  • “Ruthie Redmond, the water resources program manager for the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, told the San Antonio Express-News she was concerned that the increase means oil and gas companies are pumping more groundwater, which could dry up the wells of the region’s residents.”

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