By Carlos Morales
This month, Presidio County’s local water regulatory group elected a new member — the first time in months the district has had a complete committee.
The district, like groundwater conservation entities throughout Texas, is charged with overseeing water use. For this corner of the state that means local officials are keeping tabs on water pumped from multiple aquifers, Presidio-Redford Bolson, the West Texas Bolsons, and the Igneous aquifer.
It’s a big undertaking, but getting the board together at first was a “rough start,” said Trey Gerfers, the board chairman for the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District.
“There was one point where the entire board resigned,” said Gerfers. “There were some conflicts between appointed members of the board and elected officials. This was all way before my time but the board has always had a little bit of trouble retaining members and maintaining a focus.”
The district was established in the late 90s through the Texas Legislature — a standard practice for setting up any water conservation district.
In this interview, Gerfers talks about the district, what it’s able to do and what he sees as the pressing issue facing water conservaiton going forward.
This interview has been edited for brevity. You can hear the full interview above.
Carlos Morales: “What are the powers the district has here in Presidio County?”
Trey Gerfers: “The powers are very limited. A district has no ability to pick and choose who it’s going to permit. If someone comes along and they pay the fee and they fill out the application, 99.9 percent of the time they will be approved. But what the one of the primary objectives of the groundwater district is to protect existing users. It’s all about local control of our water. And so if we understand that this rancher has a farm or has a has a well and the well pumps this much per year and someone comes along says hey I want to put in a well here next to this rancher and I want to pump out this much. The district has the ability to say yes or no because you’re going to adversely affect that existing user.”
CM: “So so that’s when the kind of the more regulatory arm of the district comes into play?”
TG: “Exactly. And it’s to protect that existing user so the district can say you can pump less. You need to put your well over here not there or you can’t pump at all. But that’s very very rare.”
CM: “What are the main purposes that we’re seeing here in Presidio County? I’d imagine it’s agricultural.”
TG: “Well you have the tomato farm, which is our biggest production permit holder. A production permit is a permit that we issue for any water use except for domestic residential or livestock.
So they use the largest amount of water and then you have Cibolo Creek Ranch. So those are the two main users and then of course the elephants in the room are the cities of Marfa and Presidio. They are the largest users of water, but because of what’s known as the Midland Exemption they do not enjoy the protections of the groundwater district.
CM: “Those cities are not under the purview of the groundwater?”
TG: “They are not members of the district. And so they are at risk.
If an operator comes and wants to put in a well north of Marfa, maybe near one of the city’s wells and wants to pump that water to send it to San Angelo, there’s nothing that the district can do to to stop them.
[The district] would have to approve that permit, and then the city of Marfa could see its water wells go down because of this user. Whereas, if the city of Marfa were a member of the district and under the protection of the district than any new user that could adversely affect the city’s wells would be subject to our regulation and would be denied those permits if the city of Marfa’s use were in any way to be adversely affected.”
CM: “And the Midland rule we should explain.”
TG: “The Midland exemption is a little piece, a little rule in the Texas Water Code that essentially says any town with a population of Midland about 20 years ago and less is not necessarily required to join a groundwater conservation district in its area.
CM: “It would take another act of legislation in order to —”
TG: “In order for that city or those cities to give up that exemption. And so what we view it as [is] an ability for those cities to gain protect and any kind of an agreement that we would enter into with those cities would have built into it an enormous amount of water that would that would protect them and provide them with a volume that they would that they would deem necessary for any future development or any future plans.But with built in protections for that water.