EDF CAse Study on Hays Trinity GCD
Home to the iconic Jacob’s Well, Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District’s work in strategic, scientific groundwater management runs deep – down to about 140 feet in the case of Jacob’s Well! Jacob’s Well is an artesian spring bounding from the second largest underwater cave in Texas. It serves as the sole source of water for Cypress Creek, a Blanco River tributary that supports many terrestrial and aquatic native species and flows through the city of Wimberley’s popular downtown shopping area. The district’s efforts to protect this important ecological and economic resource have been showcased in a new report from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), including the innovative Jacob’s Well Groundwater Management Zone, long-term scientific data collection, and stakeholder engagement.
Environmental Defense Fund
EDF is a nonprofit environmental advocacy group and associate member of TAGD. Vanessa Puig-Williams serves as the director of EDF’s Texas Water program, which aims to advance sustainable groundwater management in Texas by helping GCDs to effectively manage groundwater while considering the long-term needs of all users. “Groundwater conservation districts actually have many regulatory tools at their disposal to effectively manage groundwater,” says Puig-Williams. “We think it is important to share examples of groundwater districts who are taking steps to proactively manage groundwater resources and who are planning for their communities’ future needs. Hays Trinity is just one of many GCDs deserving recognition.” The Hays Trinity GCD case study is the first in a series of GCD case studies that EDF is developing. These case studies seek to highlight how different GCDs throughout the state are proactively managing groundwater to protect both the long-term viability of groundwater resources and landowners’ private property rights in groundwater.
Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District
In 1990, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality designated a portion of Hays County and seven other counties as the Hill Country Priority Groundwater Management Area because demand for groundwater in the region would exceed availability within the next 50 years. In 2001, the Texas Legislature passed enabling legislation to create the Hays Trinity GCD covering the western half of the rapidly-growing Hays County with authority to manage groundwater resources in the Trinity Aquifer. The district was subsequently confirmed by voters in 2003. According to the Hays Trinity GCD, approximately 46,000 of the district’s rural residents rely on groundwater from a private domestic well or public water supply wells – representing the largest category of groundwater use within the district. As explained in the EDF case study, Hays Trinity GCD has a unique financing structure that has led to insufficient funding. While most Texas GCDs rely on either groundwater production fees proportionate to groundwater use or ad valorem property taxation for income, Hays Trinity GCD only has the authority to assess new well construction fees, permit renewal fees, and service connection fees. Nevertheless, the district works hard to incorporate science-driven policies to manage the groundwater resource in a manner consistent with the needs of its stakeholders.
Jacob’s Well Groundwater Management Zone
The EDF case study examines the creation of the Jacob’s Well Groundwater Management Zone to showcase Hays Trinity GCD’s multifaceted policy process guided by sound science and stakeholder engagement. In a federally funded watershed protection plan for Cypress Creek, local stakeholders determined that 6 cubic feet per second of springflow from Jacob’s Well was necessary to preserve flow and water quality in Cypress Creek. To better understand how pumping from the Trinity Aquifer can impact wells and the springflow discharging from Jacob’s Well, Hays Trinity GCD formed a scientific technical committee of groundwater scientists in 2018.
Charlie Flatten, General Manager of Hays Trinity GCD, says, “High-quality science is critical to informing the process. The district gathered a technical committee of geo-scientists to develop the scientific basis for the resulting policy decisions. That team was made up of seasoned professionals who are familiar with the local hydrogeology, and the resulting policy reflects their rigorous scientific process.”
The EDF case study describes the steps completed by the committee to evaluate aquifer characteristics as they relate to recharge and springflow. As explained in the case study, the scientific technical committee recommended that the Hays Trinity GCD board create a groundwater management zone for the Jacob’s Well springshed and implement drought curtailments and a prohibition on new operating permits within the management zone. A groundwater management zone is a tool allowed by Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code, which provides that GCDs can adopt different rules that govern a section of the aquifer that is substantially different from the rest of the district’s jurisdiction.
Recognizing the importance of public involvement and support for policy decisions, the district then formed a stakeholder task force to adopt guiding principles and make consensus decisions on the scientific technical committee’s recommendations. The Jacob’s Well Groundwater Management Zone and its associated rules were adopted by the Hays Trinity GCD board of directors in March of 2020.
Reflections and Looking Forward
“Hays Trinity GCD is really leaning in – taking its responsibility to manage groundwater resources in Hays County seriously and developing a regulatory framework rooted both in science and stakeholder support that can serve as a model for elsewhere in the state,” says Puig-Williams.
Hays Trinity GCD is grateful for the community’s efforts in protecting groundwater resources. “Several GCDs in the state have incorporated groundwater management zones into their regulatory portfolio, but I don’t know of any that had the level of proactive support provided by the Wimberley community,” says Flatten.
The district looks forward to continuing scientific studies and stakeholder engagement to develop policy and management tools to protect the unique groundwater resources within its jurisdiction. To learn more about Hays Trinity GCD and view links to information about the Jacob’s Well Groundwater Management Zone, click here to visit the district’s website.