Water board passes (for now) on well plan by Alcoa

‘Mitigation’ for affected owners may be offered
Reporter Editor

After a month of constant pressure from unhappy, and sometimes irate, land owners, directors of the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District tabled Alcoa’s water pumping requests Tuesday.

Meeting before a crowd of about 50 in the Milano Civic Center, directors put off a decision on the controversial permits indefinitely, until the district meets with Alcoa to work out the concerns of well owners.

Those talks may involve mitigation— intervening to fix well problems caused by future pumping—a key point raised by many of the land owners.

“There’s no reason, because of all the interest expressed, that we need to rush to approve or disapprove this permit,” director Robert Ware said.

Ware made a motion to table Alcoa’s request to drill 24 new water wells, and increase pumping from 32 existing ones, a total of an additional 25,000 acre-feet per year.

It was seconded by board member TommyTietjenandpassedon a 9-0 vote. (Board member Jim Hodson, who is employed by Alcoa, does not participate in discussions, nor vote, on Alcoa-related issues.)

MITIGATION—What’s next?

“I think it’s time for Gary (POSGCD) General Manager Gary Westbrook) and the board to sit down and talk to Alcoa. “That’s the direction I’d like to see us go,” board member Lee Alford said.

Directors said placement of wells and mitigation might be topics of discussion.

If so, that might lead to a compromise over the aluminum company’s request, one that sparked a tense session Sept. 11 in which most of a crowd of 100 ripped into Alcoa’s proposal.

That meeting was recessed after land owner Jim McDaniel filed as an “affected party” to the request. The board gave McDaniel and Alcoa time to meet and see if their differences could be resolved.

That happened and both parties read statements Tuesday reporting they were at an impasse.

But POSGCD director Carroll Glaser, reading the statements, asked if “both “weren’t saying the same thing; they both want a district-wide mitigation program?”

“Yes they did,” board president Nathan Ausley replied.

Ausley noted that a mitigation program implemented by the district would take some work by the POSGCD, including hearings, rule changes and management plan changes.

Ware’s motion to table followed.

IMPASSE—McDaniel, a resident of Virginia, owns land on County Rad 314 near the Alcoa property on which new wells would be drilled.

His statement was read by neighboring land owner Wesley Howe.

McDaniel said he would support the permit application “in exchange for an effective and immediate mitigation program that would address the damage done to nearby land owners because of increased Alcoa pumping.

But McDaniel said Alcoa would not explain why more water is needed, would not identify a specific business it is currently pursing (which would require water) and refused mitigation in exchange for land owner acquiescence to the permit.

Alcoa’s statement—authored by Energy Manager Tommy Hodges and read by attorney Roger Nevola—noted that Alcoa had already spent $2.5 million on a well mitigation program to assist land owners during the time the aluminum company was mining lignite in the area.

He rejected asking that “Alcoa and Alcoa alone” institute a mitigation program.

While noting “Alcoa and I are at am impasse and neither one of us will likely change our respective positions,” McDaniel noted that on Oct. 2 Alcoa proposed a district (POSGCD not the aluminum company) managed and funded mitigation program.

McDaniel said he supports that concept.

DIRECTION—Board members asked hydrologist Steve Young how many wells computer modeling show would be affected if permits are granted.

Young said out of 1,000 district wide wells, about 50 could expect a 50-percent drawdown by 2040.

He said that estimate included all forecast future pumping not just Alcoa’s.

Westbrook asked for some direction in the upcoming talks with Alcoa.

Board members said such talks should “look at the impacts on land owners with this (Alcoa) permit.

PERSPECTIVE— Count y Judge Dave Barkemeyer addressed the board during the public comments section of Tuesday’s meeting and attempted to provide some perspective.

Alcoa is in the process of selling the land in question to the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). LCRA has indicated access to underground water is the major factor in that purchase.

The two companies are presently in “due diligence” over the purchase which could be completed as soon as next year.

Barkemeyer said he has talked to LCRA officials and “expressed the concern of well owners.”

“If LCRA acquires these (water drilling) rights, I will do everything I can do to influence them to do what they must do to see that people who have existing wells will be protected,” he said.

Barkemeyer also tried to provide some perspective for the public as to POSGCD’s role under complex Texas water law.

“Folks, we’re all going to have to realize these guys (POSGCD board) can’t make rules saying you can’t transport water out of Milam and Burleson counties,” he said. “We have to live with that whether we like it or not. And these guys have to live with it whether they like it or not.”

Barkemeyer said POSGCD could be sued, costing Milam County taxpayers “a significant amount of money.”

He noted that one reason Alcoa needs water is to keep Luminant’s Sandow Power Plans 4 and 5 cool.

“We don’t want them to go out of business in Milam County,” Barkemeyer said. “They pay about 40 percent of our ad valorem taxes.”

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