Alcoa: ‘No new water wells for five years’
Just because Alcoa has recently been granted a hard-fought permit to drill 24 new water wells south of Rockdale, don’t look for well-drilling rigs rolling down county roads just yet.
Tommy Hodges, Energy Manager at Alcoa’s Rockdale Operations, told The Reporter it would be at least 2018 or 2019 before Alcoa would require any of the new wells it now has authority to drill after the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District (POSGCD) okayed its permit application earlier this month.
Hodges sat down with The Reporter this week to answer questions on the complex situation, which has sparked controversy and passion since the summer.
He pointed out the permit, for a total of 25,000 additional acrefeet per year, also allows Alcoa to increase pumping from 32 existing wells, and that capacity would be used before any new wells are sunk.
Alcoa already has a permit allowing it to pump 15,000 acrefeet per year.
Looming on the horizon is the pending sale of Alcoa’s Rockdale Operations property to the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which would have its own regulatory hurdles to clear with the POSGCD if it plans to export any water out of Milam County.
And Alcoa, which shut down its Rockdale smelter in 2008- 09, continues to talk to potential industrial customers whose need for water was listed as one of the company’s two major reasons for seeking the additional pumping.
NEW INDUSTRY—The permit was first filed with the POSGCD in August, 2011. (It’s since been revised twice.) It cites the potential for “business improvements and developments” on Alcoa property.
Other major factor is to provide Alcoa a source of water as “drought protection.” Hodges noted that 2011 was an extreme drought year.
Hodges said the permit was filed after Alcoa began talks with potential industrial customers to use the site, once home to Milam County’s largest employer.
“They’d look at the site and see that it had just about everything, rail, roads, power, two great research universities nearby,” Hodges said. “But you look at water and that’s where the wheels fall off.”
“They want to be shown, on paper, where they can get water,” he said.
RECYCLING—What kind of industry might want to use the “old” Rockdale Operations.
Hodges mentioned recycling as a possibility.
“The site would make a good regional recycling location,” he said. “Glass, paper and metals, especially steel,” he said.
“We’re not talking about a landfill or anything like that,” he emphasized. “This is recycling, being able to re-use.”
Hodges said recycling isn’t the only potential customer.
WILD CARD—The “ wild card” is, of course, the pending sale to LCRA. The two companies are three months into what was envisioned as a six-to-12 month “due diligence” period to hammer out a final agreement of the potential sale which was announced in August.
Hodges said the two parties continue to talk and that any announcement on an agreement, an extension of due diligence or any other news on the sale would come from LCRA.
The sale would cover 34,000 acres of property mostly in Milam County, but also including land in Lee, Bastrop and Williamson counties. “That’s every acre Alcoa owns (at Rockdale Operations),” Hodges said.
Alcoa retains ownership of buildings at the site, including the atomizer which remains open. Hodges said, assuming the sale goes through, Alcoa would become a “tenant” of LCRA.
NO TRANSPORT—Wi l l LCRA automatically assume ownership of Alcoa’s water permits with POSGCD if the sale goes through.
The answer is “maybe but it won’t do them any good.”
Gary Westbrook, POSGCD general manager, said district rules do provide for transfer of permits in such situations, so long as the kind of use and location don’t change.
“It’s not automatic,” he said. “If the permit transfer is not approved, then a new application would have to be filed and hearings would be required.”
But that’s almost certainly a moot point. The permits currently held by Alcoa are only for production and do not allow any transfer of water out of the district, which is composed of Milam and Burleson counties.
“Either Alcoa, or any new owner, would need to start all over— applications, hearings, etc.—if they intended to transfer water out of the district,” he said.
LCRA has linked the pending purchase to its goal of finding 100,000 acre/feet of water by 2017, estimating it could potentially produce 45,000 acre-feet per year in groundwater.