You never miss the water…

until the well runs dry, or the aquifer does. It turns out that there is an application into the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District for a private owner to drill a well into the Trinity aquifer and extract 1-million gallons of water per year for “domestic irrigation needs”.

8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 ??

8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 ??

Err, run that by me again. Yes, a property owner in Rollingwood, 8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 to be precise, and if Google Streetview is accurate, the property seen in the picture, wants to drill right through the Edwards Aquifer into the underlying one, and pump out 23x per month than I use, and use it for irrigation.

Now, I guess you might argue that for a farm this would be a small quantity. But this isn’t a farm, it’s a house+land situated between Bee Caves Rd and Lake Austin. While I’m sure the owners may feel they are putting the water to good use, at a time when we are all being asked to cut back and save on water consumption, this is the equivalent of 3x the water consumption that Lance Armstrong used and caused him such embarressment(thanks to Steve for his comment correcting my understanding and math) This request is approximately half the annual amount that embarrassed Lance Armstrong, and for which he took immediate steps to rectify.

Let’s remember, there is a water shortage. Water isn’t man made, it’s part of the commons. It “belongs” to all of us. It’s unclear to me that this won’t affect the Edwards Aquifer, as we all know that water finds it’s own level. There is apparently a chance that the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will approve this free extraction and use of OUR water.

Now, remember this isn’t about cost, it’s about supply. Seems to me that if this passes, now might be a good idea for us all to start plans to build our own wells to water our own lawns, after all we can all be selfish.

Alternatively, if you feel that the commons right to water is the responsibility of all of us, you might want to call BSEACD on (512) 282-8441 in the next 3-days and tell them, and indirectly tell James David and Gary Peese, the property owners, that you do not feel this is an appropriate action, period, and especially in the current drought conditions.

10 Comments so far

  1. stevehopson on September 4th, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

    Wow, that really is incredible – the Edwards Aquifer doesn’t have enough water for this house, so they want to punch right through it into the Trinity?

    One small math point, however. According to the NY Times article, Lance Armstong used 330,000 gallons of water in July 2008 and his monthly average for the first half of 2008 was 158,000 gallons, or 1.9 million gallons per year. So this request is for about half of Lance’s (hopefully) former usage, not three times the amount.

    Good post, keep up the muckraking journalism.

  2. triman on September 4th, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

    Thanks for the correction Steve, that was both my misunderstanding and poor math, I’ve updated the article.

    Sadly it’s not muckraking journalism, I’m entirely indebted to the alertness and discussion on the Save Barton Creek Association Yahoo group and some of the great commentary. I’ve been keeping gray water and using it for plants and lawn for about 18-months, I can often be seen in my front yard with a red plastic bucket.

    So personally, I am offended by this request, no matter how beautiful their home is, no matter how important it is for them to irrigate, they shouldn’t be allowed to do this from the “commons” water. If they need this amount of water, let them pay and truck it in. Obviously they’ve considered this and decided that on the long term, it would be less expensive to drill the well and take water from the rest of us.

  3. Spencer (unregistered) on September 4th, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

    Here are some photos of the gardens that will be irrigated with the Trinity aquifer water. More information about the owners can be found by googling “David Peese Design.”

  4. stevehopson on September 4th, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

    Beautiful photos. Obviously a major consumer of the water is all the fountains and pools – many of which are supposed to be shut off during City of Austin water restrictions (which maybe don’t apply in Rollingwood and most likely wouldn’t apply if the owners are permitted to use well water).

    A very telling comment is included in with the photos: “And how much water does it take to get this garden through our hot, dry summers? ‘Our water bill is out of sight!’ David cheerfully confessed to an inquiring visitor.”

  5. Shawn (unregistered) on September 4th, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

    Do you have the application or know if/when there will be a hearing?

  6. Cathy (unregistered) on September 4th, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

    I’ve been to this house during a garden tour. The owners own a garden store – maybe the one on W 35th? It is a beautiful property with amazing landscaping, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to access water at this level…I’m amazed by the utter self-centeredness of some folks.

  7. brian (unregistered) on September 4th, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

    A few more facts about this..(full disclosure, I work at the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District). The well in question will be from the middle Trinity Aquifer which is deep below the Edwards and will not affect the Edwards Aquifer–it is isolated from the Edwards in this area and the way the well will be constructed will ensure that. In fact, the well can be seen as a benefit to the Edwards Aquifer water budget. This production well will allow the owner, who currently irrigates with Edwards water through their public supplier, to conserve the Edwards water and use the Trinity instead. The owners have agreed for the Barton Springs Conservation District to use the well as a monitor well and collect data indefinately. They still have to abide by the Conservation District rules and regulations–which would include reduction/conservation limits during drought periods. The Trinity Aquifer is also a finite resource, however, there is not much use of it right now, and so one strategy of the District (right now) is to have folks look to the Trinity rather than the Edwards as a source of water. If you have more questions the District folks would be happy to discuss.

  8. triman on September 5th, 2009 @ 11:38 am

    As always these things are never as clear cut as they seem at first. Thanks to Brian for his comments, I also spoke to John at the district who was also helpful explaining the process.

    Shilli, in response to your question about a hearing. Apparently, procedurally you can request a contested hearing. However, in order to get a hearing you need to provide a reason why you as an individual are specifically impacted. For example, if by drilling this well, your well will dry up. It is not sufficient that for example, by drilling this well the lake will be deprived of water. The Water district will be aware of that and consider it.

    To request a contested hearing you need to write to the district within 20-days of the notice, which appears to be September 16th. A few other comments from my discussion with John. Permission for this well WILL be given unless it can be legally proven that the use of the water is “wasteful” and not of “beneficial use”. This definition can be read here on the Edwards Aquifer web site

    There is also a very good review of the issues relating to pumping and wells here and Ron Pucek’s Catfish Farm here:

    So, net net is permission is almost certainly going to be given unless their is a proven case of 3rd party impact at a contested hearing. This is again back to the old chestnut of Texas property rights and guided by state law. However, during drought restrictions, while permission for the well can be given, they will not get permission to pump. On the use of the water and the Trinity Aquifer. Apparently, according to what I heard from John, which I may have misunderstood, the applicants are currently drawing water from the Edwards Aquifer, which is confirmed by Brian(above) but are also trucking water in as there are restrictions on daily usage, currently set at 9,000 gallons per month(3x my current average).

    The most interesting part of the discussion was about the Trinity Aquifer. If I understood correctly, he said that the Trinity Aquifer was underused currently and only has a handful of wells; that it flows south east to the gulf and not into Lady Bird Lake or Lake Austin; that it had no obvious spring or discharge.

    So, what remains are a couple of issues in my mind. 1. If the Trinity Aquifer is underused and won’t impact the Edwards Aquifer, the springs, the lake etc. Then why are the water districts not utilising it and taking water from it ? It cannot be that prohibitively expensive to do, since the applicants are proposing to do it for a single property. 2. While it may not be possible to stop this well under Texas Law, we should make our opinions known. Yes, the applicants may be able to draw water without affecting the rest of us(questionable, I’m no expert); we should let the water district know that we are not in favor of the applicants “promoting” this form of unsustainable garden here in Texas. Most people who see this type and style of garden will not be able to maintain it without using the “commons” water.

    I’ll write and others concerned should too. The Water district is at 1124 Regal Row, Austin, TX 78748

  9. Jeff (unregistered) on September 6th, 2009 @ 12:11 pm


    What do you think of the new Tifway 419 grass at Zilker? This is watered from a raw feed from LB Lake; the draw comes out of Austin’s 235,000 acre-feet allocation. According to PARD, they expect to use 100 acre-feet per year (this is 30M gallons/year). By my calculations, this is about right; it’s 24 inches and that grass can need up to 48 inches per year. Exact usage will depend on rain, weather, and traffic.

    What about the new Gorzycki middle school off of Slaughter? In non-traffic areas they added about 10 acres of bermuda sod and seed, after ripping out the native grasses, and are watering from a combination of now empty retention ponds and city water. This is going to use perhaps 8 million gallons a year. They scrapped the native grasses around the Ashe juniper above the entrance drive, put down sandy loam (red death) and seeded with bermuda. They also destroyed the native grasses and wildflowers in the median and replanted with bermunda. Reseeding with little bluestem, side oats grama and blue grama would have required no long term watering. Paul Turner at AISD is responsible for facilities. Have you ever contacted him about AISD best practices?

    Both of these are long term, permanent drains on my drinking water that seem much more threatening than a deep well into a aquifer that has no impact on the Austin water supply.

    Jeff D.

  10. Mark Cathcart (unregistered) on September 6th, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

    Thanks for your comments Jeff. Yes, I agree, neither of the situations you mention are ideal. I wasn’t aware Gorzycki middle school and that doesn’t seem like responsible development and planning. After all at some point if things don’t change it will all be dead as water restrictions ever tighten.

    I take a slightly different view, personally, about the work done at Zilker Park. Given the huge range of activities, and the broad range of people that the new grass serves, I’m ok with it.

    Both of these cases though are on a different level from a private house/company that is through excess consumption, promoting an unsustainable practice. I guess we’ll see in a couple of summers how sustainable the Zilker grass has turned out to be. Thanks again for the comments.

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