A hydrograph monitoring wells in southern Burnet County off of CR 304 shows an overall downtrend in water levels from the Ellenburger-San Saba Aquifer. The Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District is monitoring wells across the county. Courtesy image
Groundwater levels in Burnet County are on the decline, according to data collected by Mitchell Sodek, general manager of the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District. Sodek presented his findings to the district Board of Directors during its regular meeting Tuesday, Aug. 16.
Hydrographs from the CTGCD monitoring well network indicate that aquifers and groundwater sources across the county are reaching historic lows and that the levels will continue to go down in the near future.
One well in south Burnet County off of CR 403 showed the water level at 53.2 feet below ground as of July 11, 2021. That same well’s water level was 29.1 feet below ground on July 12, 2022 — an 82.8 percent decrease in water level between the summers of 2021 and 2022. The lowest water level on record for this well was 55.3 feet below on Sept. 16, 2013, during the worst single-year drought in Texas history.
The Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District has dozens of monitor wells across Burnet County plunging into the varied aquifers and groundwater sources that feed private and civic wells. Sodek and his team are able to pull data on water levels, pressure, and recharge rate to observe changes over time.
“There hasn’t been a change to the permitted amount (of water), so the only change has been the non-permitted amounts,” Sodek said.
Around 40-50 well applications have been submitted to the district per month in 2022, according to Sodek.
“At what point do we start using this information to say, ‘There have to be different rules’?” asked Paul King, director-at-large.
Sodek responded, stating the most important factor in making decisions is how wells will affect neighboring ones.
“There’s multiple factors in permitting. The big one is, ‘Are you going to affect surrounding landowners?’” Sodek said.
Permitted wells are required to conduct hydrogeological studies to determine the groundwater levels in their locality, but small private wells don’t have this same requirement.
Depending on a well’s location in the county, it will be pulling from a specific source of groundwater that is affected by depth, recharge rate, pressure, and human activity. Without understanding these factors, it is difficult to measure the impact that many smaller wells are having on a particular region’s groundwater.
Sodek clarified that human use during drought is a greater stress on groundwater than the lack of rain. Depending on an aquifer’s location and characteristics, it can take months or years for rainwater to replenish it.
The district board chose to remain in Stage 4 drought restrictions, following the current Palmer Hydrological Drought Index, which places most of the American Southwest under the same Stage 4 drought conditions.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
The Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District passed a proposed tax rate of 0.0057 cents per $100 property evaluation for the residents of Burnet County. While the tax rate itself decreased from 0.0067 cents per $100 property evaluation in 2021, the overall taxes paid by residents will increase slightly due to a massive jump in property evaluations across the county.
The Burnet Central Appraisal District valued Burnet County property at $10.7 billion, approximately a $400 million increase from last year.
“I think this shows how sensitive we all are to any tax increase,” said Ryan Rowney, district board president. “Expenses are going up, everything is going up, and we want to take care of our employees.”
A public hearing on the tax increase will take place at 1 p.m. Sept. 12 at 225 S. Pierce St in Burnet.
Also, the CTGCD moved to install groundwater conservation signage across Burnet County on the same posts that carry “Burn Ban In Effect” signs.
The proposed wording of the signs will read “Severe Drought Conserve Groundwater” and include the district’s logo and contact information. Like the burn ban signs, the conservation signs will fold over when drought conditions aren’t present.
Sodek estimated they would place 60-100 signs in the county at $99 a unit. Funds would come from the district’s education budget.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story had the wrong lowest recorded level and date on a south Burnet County well off of CR 403. It was originally reported as 51.4 feet below surface on Aug. 22, 2011. The lowest recorded level for that well was actually 55.3 feet below on Sept. 16, 2013.DailyTrib.com apologizes for the error.