POSGCD: ‘Treat them all the same’

Info meeting, hearing ahead on Alcoa-LCRA plans for area water

An information session and the long-awaited public hearing on Alcoa’s plans to drill 24 water wells are set for consecutive evenings Monday and Tuesday.

In advance of the 5:30 p.m. Tuesday public hearing in the Milano Civic Center/Fire Station, Gary Westbrook, POSGCD general manager, has reminded concerned residents the district’s stated goal is that “everyone who wishes to produce should be treated the same at any given time.”

Westbrook also challenged a perception that Alcoa’s plans will lower aquifer levels by 250 feet, maintaining that figure came from a computer model and that POSGCD uses “actual water level data and not model predictions to make decisions regarding permits and maximum production rates.”

CAPARO—The POSGCD public hearing will come one day after the 6 to 8:30 p.m. Monday Community Advisory Panel to Alcoa (CAPARO) information session at the Alcoa Lake Training Center.

That session will be the first public appearance by LCRA since it announced three weeks ago it is in the process of purchasing 34,000 acres of Alcoa Rockdale Operations land, along with water rights and power contracts.

PRODUCTION—Westbrook said Alcoa’s application is being treated the same as any other applicant before the POSGCD, under rules established long before any applications.

“Currently, a landowner is allowed a maximum of two acrefeet per year,” he said. “Someone owning 100 acres is currently entitled to permit up to 200 acre-feet per year, equivalent to pumping continuously 62 gallons per minute.”

Westbrook said those num- bers were established primarily to allow crop irrigation during driest years and could change “if there becomes a problem with groundwater availability in the future.”

DROP—Westbrook said the estimate for a 250-foot drop in the aquifer if Alcoa’s pumping plans are granted is based on the applicant’s (Alcoa) being required to use the state’s Groundwater Availability Model for the permitting process.

“That model does predict, if the full amount of pumping from the application is produced each year from 2012 to 2040, water levels in some part of the aquifer would drop 250 feet,” he said.

But Westbrook says POSGCD uses actual water level data and not model predictions to make decisions regarding permits and maximum production rates.

“Based on historical permitee usage, the actual pumpage from Alcoa, and other permitees, will be less than permitted amounts,” he said. “In years of average rainfall, most permitees produce about one-third or less of their permitted amount.”

Westbrook also said the state’s model includes production which has not yet been permitted, yielding some duplication of pumping in the Alcoa model.

“Also, there is some evidence the state’s model might be overestimating drawdown because of a misrepresentation of geologic faults,” he said.

PROTECTION—Westbrook said the POSGCD has a mandate to protect the district’s (Milam and Burleson counties) aquifers so they “remain viable sources of water for district residents.”

He said POSGCD has adopted desired future condition (DFC) standards, which guide its decisions.

“Sooner or later a point of maximum sustained production by the aquifers may be reached,” he said.

Westbrook said groundwater districts are the state’s method of management of groundwater, just as river authorities manage surface water.

“As recently as last year, river authorities not only curtailed permits but, in some instances, completely revoked entire permitted amounts,” he said.

LCRA SALE—Westbrook said the pending LCRA purchase has no effect on the hearings.

“If Alcoa’s applications are granted, and they sell them to LCRA, the LCRA will own a permit that includes the application which was filed to secure it,” he said.

“Alcoa’s application is for on-site and in-district industrial use. If LCRA desires to transport water from the district, it will need to go through the entire process again to either amend parts of the existing permit or file for a new one for production, and then they will need to file new applications to transport that water,” he said.

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