The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) obtained groundwater well operating permits from the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District (Lost Pines GCD or District) in March, 2013. These wells were intended to “supplement” the river water that the LCRA had been using to provide cooling water to the Lost Pines Power Plant (LPPP). In May 2014 the LCRA sought to modify the drought related conditions placed on the operating permit in 2013. After several contentious attempts to amend the permits, the District delivered its decision on January 21, 2014. The following provides Environmental Stewardship’s perspective on the process.
Original Permit Application, 2013 (to be added).
May 21, 2014: LCRA sent home humiliated
The LCRA applied to amend its operating permits at its Lost Pines Power Plant (LPPP) to “increase or aggregate the maximum rate of withdrawal and to amend Special Condition (1)”, the hearing notice read. What they were actually seeking was to increase the amount of water they can pump in all years to 8,000 ac-ft/year as a rolling average (exclusive of drought conditions), from the current permitted limit of 5,000 ac-ft/year. AND, they were seeking to remove Special Condition (1) so they can pump up to 10,000 ac-ft/year in any year without drought restrictions.
In attempting to amend its permit, the LCRA conceded that, contrary to its promises and commitments during the original application in 2013, the groundwater permitted to them for operation of the power plant at Lake Bastrop was being used as the “primary source” of cooling water rather than as a “supplementary” source to the river water it has been using for many many years. “I have a problem with that” said Director Billy Sherill reflecting the opinion of many of the other board members. The Board denied LCRA’s request.
“We know that the LCRA is in negotiations with the Griffith League Scout Ranch to obtain the right to pump groundwater from its 5,000-acre site in Bastrop” said Steve Box. ” Since LCRA is seeking additional groundwater through its negotiations with the Scout Ranch, we anticipate that it will at some point continue its shell game by requesting to aggregate these wells and seek a transport permit to move water out of our District to the I-35 corridor”.
December 17, 2014. LCRA sent home empty-handed
The LCRA was sent home empty-handed after the Lost Pines GCD Board tabled the motion to amend Special Condition (1). In a separate action the Board granted the requests to aggregate the five wells in the well field. With this action the LCRA can consider whether or not it needs to drill the 5th well. Four wells have been completed and tested.
After discussion regarding whether the LCRA was using groundwater according to its originally stated intent, to supplement its use of river water, or as a primary use of water, Director Keith Hansberger suggested “so much has changed, we just need to start over on this permit.” In later testimony from Steve Box, Environmental Stewardship, on the LCRA’s real intent, as described by the LCRA Board of Directors in its September 18, 2013 (see agenda Item 14, page 39) board meeting where it indicate “LCRA will seek approval to use the full 10,000 acre-feet per year in every year,” Director Michael Simmang said “that bothers me,” and asked the other Board members, “does that bother anyone else?” The Board then retired into its second executive session of the evening regarding the application. Following the session, the Board moved to grant the aggregation of the wells, but tabled further consideration of the request to amend Special Condition (1). (see ES letter to Lost Pines Board, ES Testimony)
January 21, 2014: Board delivers verdict after LCRA whines
The Lost Pines Board, at its January 21st meeting, delivered its decision on the LCRA’s application to amend Condition (1) of its groundwater pumping operating permit after LCRA whined that the Board was paying too much attention to the public’s concerns, especially Environmental Stewardship.
In a unanimous decision, the Board modified Condition (1) of LCRA’s operating permit for groundwater wells at the Lost Pines Power Plant (LPPP) in Bastrop, Texas, by amending the permit to allow the LCRA to pump a 5-year rolling average of 6,500 ac-ft/yr with the proviso that the water could ONLY be used at the LPPP and for NO OTHER PURPOSE (paraphrased).
After the LCRA complained to the Lost Pines GCD Board of Directors in a four page letter saying that the Board was improperly listening to its constituency, the public, and especially Environmental Stewardship, the Board squarely limited the LCRA’s operating permit to esure that the LCRA only uses the amount of groundwater needed to run the power plant under both normal and drought conditions. The LCRA had claimed that Environmental Stewardship was “attempting to scare the Board into making arbitrary and irrational modifications to LCRA’s permit” by providing “inflammatory rhetoric” and “erroneous statements.”
Prior to the Board’s decision, Steve Box, Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship (ES), provided the Board with oral arguments to counter the LCRA’s claims. In discussing “erroneous statements” Box pointed to LCRA statements and showed that the LCRA statement was an erroneous distortions of what ES had stated in it’s comments. “That’s a whole different standard than FIRM water curtailment”, said Box, “we are talking about when LCRA curtails or cuts off interruptible water and environmental water.” “Finally,” Box said, “with regards to LCRA’s threats … LCRA is now joining ranks with Forestar and End Op in taking the bullying and threatening approach to groundwater regulations.” (see the last paragraph of the LCRA’s letter)
In other comments, Environmental Stewardship provided a remedy to the “Condition (1)” controversy that would have linked the LCRA’s use of groundwater for the LPPP to the drought conditions used in the LCRA’s Highland Lakes Water Management Plan. “All the Board has to do is determine which of those conditions merit the use of the entire 10,000 acre feet per year of groundwater … it’s as easy as that,” said Box. The Board, however, went on to adopt an even more limiting remedy.
Environmental Stewardship calls on LCRA to take a leadership role
The LCRA states on its website that it “provides a multitude of vital services to Texans, including … managing the water supply and environment of the lower Colorado River basin. LCRA’s mission statement says that it “is a responsible steward of the river and the basin’s natural resources.”
The LCRA is seeking, through its groundwater permit, to conjunctively use and manage groundwater and surface water at the LPPP in order to secure cooling water supplies for the plant and thereby enabling the use of surface water elsewhere in the Colorado River and Highland Lakes system; a reasonable proposition. At the same time the LCRA is working to update and gain approval of its water management plan (WMP) to ensure water supplies are adequate to meet the needs of its FIRM and interruptible customers and the environment.
Environmental Stewardship calls on the LCRA to:
1) take a leadership role in developing and implementing holistic solutions to conjunctive management of surface water and groundwater resources within its jurisdiction, and
2) assist the Lost Pines GCD, and other entities, by working with them to develop information and understanding so that they can likewise conjunctively manage the resources in the Colorado River basin that fall under their jurisdiction.
3) protect critical environmental flows in the Colorado River and into Matagorda Bay to ensure their health through drought conditions.