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As Burnet County languishes in extreme drought, well use, drilling remain active

Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District board meeting

Central Texas Groundwater Conservation Precinct 4 Director Ricky Bindseil holds up one of the new groundwater conservation signs that have been installed across Burnet County. The Board of Directors believes more signs are needed as the county remains in extreme drought and groundwater is still under heavy use. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors voted to maintain Stage 4 drought status for Burnet County during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 18. District General Manager Mitchell Sodek expressed concern over the lack of rainfall and the continued use of groundwater in the county. 

“We are in the extreme stage of our drought management plan,” Sodek told the board. “If you thought the rain in August would change it, it didn’t.”

The district’s drought management plan follows drought stage data from the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index, which currently indicates that Central Texas is still in extreme drought conditions, the most severe rating.

Sodek examined data from the district’s monitor well network and found little to no replenishment or increased pressure in many of the wells.

“If anything, things continued to go down this month, which is somewhat concerning because this is the time of year that things typically shut off and we have some rebound on the pressure,” Sodek said.

He was referring to overall groundwater use, which he explained typically decreases in the cooler months as people slow down on outdoor watering.

“Hopefully, this cooler weather will help, but (groundwater) is getting drawn on later in the year in the drought years when it’s still warm.”

The board voted unanimously to maintain the current drought stage in light of Sodek’s presentation.

“We need multiple two- and four- and five-inch rains,” board President Ryan Rowney said.

Sodek went on to update the board on the number of wells that have been drilled in Burnet County in recent years and the projected number of wells to be drilled in 2022.

Data collected since 2012 showed a massive increase in well drilling through 2021:

  • 2012 – 168
  • 2013 – 112
  • 2014 – 169 
  • 2015 – 160 
  • 2016 – 151
  • 2017 – 205
  • 2018 – 217
  • 2019 – 263
  • 2020 – 305
  • 2021 – 406
  • 2022 – 257 as of Sept. 1

According to Sodek, many of the new wells being drilled are in clustered ranchette-style subdivisions, which means they are drawing on the same immediate groundwater source. 

“The northwest part of the county in particular used to be extremely rural with very few wells, and it has just exploded,” Sodek said. “I think this is just the beginning because there are several new developments that have been approved.”

He noted that the subdivisions in the northwest lie above the Ellenburger-San Saba Aquifer, which he believes can support the growth. The subdivisions popping up in eastern Burnet County, however, are above the Trinity Aquifer, which could lose pressure in areas with a dense concentration of wells.

Precinct 1 Director Kathy Griffis-Bailey asked about the placement and location of the recently approved drought stage signs purchased by the council. 

Director Ricky Bindseil, who also works for the Burnet County Road and Bridge Department, explained that the 60 signs ordered by the district were evenly distributed among the four precincts of Burnet County on county roads with heavy traffic.

Griffis-Bailey proposed purchasing 60 additional signs to post across the county, especially in areas with high rates of drilling. Sodek agreed with her and stated that there was room in the district’s budget for such a purchase. 

The board chose to wait to order the signs until Burnet County officials could be consulted regarding the labor required to install them. The matter will be addressed during the next district board meeting.