POSGCD ‘drilled’ over Alcoa water
A crowd of over 100, sometimes emotional, sometimes downright angry, showed up in the Milano Civic Center Tuesday evening to protest Alcoa’s water drilling plans.
The public hearing of the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District (POSGCD), a governing body which will eventually rule on water permit plans was like a clash of two worlds across a vast divide.
The POSGCD, represented mostly by hydrologist Steve Young and distr ict manager Gary Westbrook, sees Alcoa’s quest to drill 24 new wells, and increase pumping from 32 existing ones, as legitimately filed and researched, an endeavor supported by scientific studies and one that can be managed by district rules and regulations.
Most of those in attendance see the request as a raid on private water by a large corporation for unspecified purposes, likely to deplete water resources for decades to come.
“This is the biggest topic of conversation (in the county),” land owner Don Schuerman said. “Everyone’s against it.”
Bill Graham, another land owner, asked those in the crowd opposing the permit to stand. About 80 percent did.
It ended, at least for Tuesday, on a technicality. Board president Nathan Ausley recessed the hearing until Alcoa and Rockdale native Jim McDaniel, now a resident of Virginia, could meet and work out differences.
“Mr. McDaniel f iled as an ‘affected party’,” Westbrook said. “Under our rules we have to recess the hearing until that can be resolved.”
“That’s different from actually contesting the permit,” he said. “No one has filed to contest.”
MODELS—Young presented numerous graphs, charts and tables illustrating the dynamics of the Simsboro Aquifer and concluding that Alcoa’s request could probably be managed and monitored by POSGCD.
Westbrook said one of its goals is to minimize drawdown in shallow wells.
Alcoa is requesting an additional 25,000 acre/feet per year, from new wells and 15,000 from existing wells.
Young noted that many don’t realize for 12 years (1988-2000) Alcoa pumped 30,000 acre/feet per year during dewatering to facilitate coal mining at Sandow.
During that time, he noted, out of 1,600 area wells, Alcoa replaced 125 and lowered or otherwise modified another 330.
Westbrook said the POSGCD would monitor actual pumping and recharge rates.
“There’s just no one simple mathematic equation (to judge the effects). There are a lot of variables,” Westbrook said.
But he also pledged: “Anyone who has water under their land today will have water under their land in perpetuity.”
‘DRILLING’—Then many in the crowd did some “drilling” of their own.
Thirteen people signed up to give three-minute public comment statements and about a half-dozen wrote down questions. Some highlights:
• Graham: “Over the years I’ve been to many of their (POSGCD) meetings. You all are over-permitted at present.”
• Phil Cook, Sierra Club, termed Young’s presentation “fiction” and added “once it’s (water) gone, its just flat gone.”
• Wesley Howe, land owner asked for well mitigation policies be placed in the permit. “I’ve got water under my land and I use it too,” he said. “A 200-foot drawdown next door would be pretty severe.”
• McDaniel, termed Alcoa’s permit a “misrepresentation of the truth” and said future generations will bear the brunt of more pumping. “We will be gone by the time the damage results from this decision.”
LCRA—Many speakers referenced two questions: “Why does Alcoa need the water?” and “How does Alcoa’s impending land sale to LCRA affect the permits?”
Alcoa Energy Manager Tommy Hodges said the permit was filed one year ago, long before any lcra deal, after an extended drought and that Alcoa had negotiated “business opportunities” with companies which required water.
“If the deal goes through and LCRA buys the land, they can’t use these (Alcoa’s ) permits,” Barney Knight, POSGCD attorney, said. “They can’t be used to take water to Austin or Houston or wherever.”