The Lower Colorado River Authority and a Bastrop County homeowners association have reached an agreement amid a groundwater pumping permit dispute that has been ongoing since last year.
The river authority and the Circle D Civic Association signed a memorandum of understanding last month that will ensure the river authority won’t cause nuisances if it is awarded a permit to pump groundwater from a property in close proximity to the Circle D subdivision. In exchange, the homeowners association agrees to not oppose the LCRA’s groundwater pumping permit on matters not related to property rights. The association and its members are still allowed to oppose the permit on how it may impact the underground aquifer.
The LCRA applied for a permit in February 2018 to pump 8.15 billion gallons of groundwater per year from eight proposed water wells drilled on the Griffith League Boy Scot Ranch at 424 Oak Hill Cemetery Road north of Bastrop. The Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District referred the permit application to a state judge in November after an organized grassroots campaign of Bastrop and Lee county landowners opposed the permit. Several of those landowners live in the Circle D subdivision, including the association's vice president, Jeannie Jessup, who also leads the Friends of Bastrop Water environmental group.
With her house just a quarter-mile from where LCRA’s eight water wells are planned, Jessup voiced concerns about any noise pollution the water pumps may generate, the traffic the pump construction may cause, the route the prospective pipelines will take as they export water, and how these impacts may affect her and her neighbors’ property values.
The agreement, which was signed last month by Jessup and LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson, addresses all of those concerns. It is the first time the river authority has ever signed such an agreement with a neighborhood association, the agency said.
“In the spirit of being a good neighbor, LCRA was pleased to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Circle D Civic Association in order to provide a clear understanding between the local residents and LCRA as to how LCRA will develop the groundwater rights it owns on the Griffith League Ranch,” said Bill Lauderback, LCRA’s executive vice president for public affairs.
The agreement states that the river authority will individually enclose every well drilled on the property so as to prevent noise pollution, plant trees and vegetation around the wells to further mitigate sound, will place pipelines in existing right-of-ways, and will provide a grant to Bastrop County for any needed road repairs caused by LCRA equipment.
“The first thing that I really wanted to do was to separate Jeannie and her homeowners’ issues from the issue of groundwater or water rights. Because while they’re related, they really are separate,” said Jim Murphy, a water attorney representing Jessup and the homeowners association. “There’s a class of people who maybe don’t really care about groundwater — although they should — but they sure do care about noise, roads and those kinds of nuisances.”
Murphy, who negotiated the agreement with LCRA officials, said that both sides made concessions. The homeowners association wanted LCRA to pay for a part-time employee that would monitor the wells and act as a liaison between the community and the agency if any issues arose — a provision the agency declined. And the LCRA wanted the homeowners association to back out of the groundwater fight completely, which the homeowners declined.
The unprecedented agreement comes five months after a report from the Sunset Advisory Commission criticized the agency’s lack of transparency.
The utility is “on the defensive, working uphill against a public trust shortage it might have alleviated with more preemptive public engagement on this project,” the commission staff wrote, referring to the Bastrop County groundwater dispute.
State judges with the State Office of Administrative Hearings are expected to take up the groundwater permit in October.