Alcoa gets to drill

Mitigation part of permit okayed Tuesday

MILANO—The high-profile, high-emotions question of a new water drilling permit for Alcoa came to a conclusion Tuesday when the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District (POSGCD) approved an amended permit that includes a promise to mitigate Simsboro Aquifer wells which are impacted.

The vote, Tuesday evening in the Milano Civic Center, was a unanimous 6-0 of directors who were present. (Director Jim Hodson, who is employed by Alcoa recused himself from any discussion or vote on the matter.)

Alcoa, which already has permits for 15,000 acre-feet of water pumping per year, wants an additional 25,000 acre-feet annually from 32 existing wells and 24 new wells.

The company says the water is being sought for potential industrial customers. Alcoa is in the process of selling Rockdale Operations land, including water rights, to the Lower Colorado River Authority.

MITIGATION—Scores of land owners expressed sometimes angry opposition to the permit at public hearings in September and October, but some said they’d be more open to Alcoa’s drilling plans if a well mitigation effort could be started.

In October, POSGCD directors, in their first public comments on the matter, instructed district manager Gary Westbrook to contact Alcoa and discuss possibilities for providing well owners some relief.

Westbrook said he and hydrologist Steve Young met with Alcoa officials last week, were presented a proposal, then rewrote it to give the district more control over mitigation plans.

The plan establishes guidelines for which wells will qualify for aid by Alcoa, then promises “a onetime well mitigation, such as lowering the well pump (including new equipment if necessary), drilling a replacement well (again including new equipment, if necessary) or providing a connection to a local water supply.”

FINE-TUNING—Directors on Tuesday fine tuned the agreement even more, changing the spacing requirement from one-half mile to three-quarters of a mile from an existing Alcoa well and removing a clause which would have specified a five-year time limit for mitigations.

Director Jay Tumlinson said he felt the mitigation agreement “provides an extra level of protection” for well owners.

During a technical presentation, Young said Alcoa recognizes “the district has a right to curtail production” in the event POSGCD’s monitoring and modeling warrants such an action.

Tommy Hodges of Alcoa said drilling of the new wells “would be years away.”

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2012-11-15 digital edition

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