Burnet seeks OK to stop refilling Hamilton Creek Park ‘ponds’

CONNIE  SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF 

BURNET — City officials have asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to change a permit that requires the municipality to refill the Hamilton Creek Park waterway using well water.

Burnet City Manager David Vaughn said he made the request after the water-regulating agency contacted the city the week of Sept. 1 regarding a complaint from a citizen about the dwindling levels at the creek along West Street in the heart of the community.

The resident cited a 1991 permit between the city and the water regulatory board that directs the city to use well water to refill the so-called “ponds” in the park.

Under Special Conditions, the permit reads, “Permittee shall maintain the reservoirs full with ground water.”

The permit, issued to Burnet to dam the creek and create pond areas was categorized for recreation purposes.

“Obviously, we would like it to be full, it’s an icon in Burnet. It’s a beautiful park. It’s something that everybody who drives through town recognizes and enjoys it,” Vaughn said. “Especially during the summer, when we have high evaporation loss, to refill every three weeks to every month to the tune of 3 million gallons, we had to make the decision that it was not the best use of drinking water supplies.”

The Highland Lakes remains gripped by severe drought just short of the drought of record because of lack of rain and low inflows to area waterways.

All cities are under voluntary water conservation members, cutting back consumption by 10 percent.

In the past year, Burnet began supplementing its surface water resource from Inks Lake with wells, splitting the ground water and lake water resources among residents to take some of the strain off waterways along the Colorado River.

At the height of the summer, Burnet residents saw the levels in the ponds on Hamilton Creek, a tributary in the Colorado River basin, dwindle to as low as 10 percent full at the height of the summer in August.

“We have elected during this drought to not use well water to refill it because we’re using well water to supplement our drinking water in town,” Vaughn said. “In speaking to TCEQ since then, it looks like we’ll be able to submit an amendment to the application to modify that so that during these extreme drought periods, we would not have to use drinking water supplies to keep the creek full.”

One business owner adjacent to the park expressed concern about the city halting the refills.

“It is a problem because people are not coming. If it doesn’t rain, they don’t fill it up,” said Jorge Hernandez, owner of Las Palmas Restaurant, 200 S. West St. “Sometimes, I see more bugs. Sometimes, it really stinks. It needs to be with water.”

Vaughn said TCEQ has agreed to review the city’s amendment request to halt the refill of the waterway during the drought.

“(The existing permit) was standard language used in those agreements 20 years ago; however, nowadays it’s more common to provide for drought language that allows you modifications for extreme drought period,” he said. “Primarily, the refill is for aesthic reasons. If we have concerns over the wildlife, we’re able to relocate the wildlife if we have a problem.”

Recent rain during the weekend of Sept. 5 have replenished the ponds in the park.

“We were very fortunate. We got really good rain right above Hamilton Creek, but it will start dropping rather quickly because that’s what it does,” Vaughn said. “You’ll start noticing within the next two weeks, the evaporative loss, the loss through the ground. It loses water at a rather fast rate.”

connie@thepicayune.com

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