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A public hearing on mandatory groundwater restrictions for permitted wells in Burnet County is in the works. After discussing the current extreme drought conditions during its Nov. 18 meeting, the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors unanimously approved setting a hearing date.

Burnet County has been in Stage 4 Critical Drought since June 13, prompting the conservation district board to hold a public hearing on the potential implementation of mandatory drought restrictions for 2023. The district has until the end of the year to set these restrictions and is required to hold a public hearing on the matter, giving at least 10 days’ notice prior to the hearing, which is expected to be during the board’s next meeting on Dec. 20. All permitted users will be notified of the hearing.

Mandatory drought restrictions have not been implemented since the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District was created in 2005. The proposed restrictions would reduce the allowable use of permitted wells in Burnet County by 15 percent.

“We’re in uncharted territory here. We’ve never had to get to this point,” said board President Ryan Rowney. “I don’t think any of us want to see restrictions kick in, but I’m afraid we’re going to be pushed to that point.”

The board unanimously agreed to have district General Manager Mitchell Sodek move forward with a public hearing notice, but not without major considerations for the potential impact of groundwater restrictions.

Burnet County well 6165 levels
A hydrograph depicting historical water levels for Well 6165 near Hamilton Creek in Burnet County. This particular well is showing the lowest water level on record, which is believed to be caused by the recent drought. Courtesy image

The restrictions would only affect the estimated 170 permitted users in Burnet County, which use about 50-60 percent of the groundwater, according to Sodek. Any well in the county that has a pump rate above 17.36 gallons per minute requires a permit, so wells with a lower pump rate are exempt from a permit and not directly affected by mandatory restrictions.

“The drought has been extreme from a groundwater level perspective. We’re recording some of our lowest water levels to date,” Sodek told after the meeting.

He pointed to two monitoring wells in the district’s network that showed dismal groundwater levels compared to past years. Well 6165 at northeast Hamilton Creek showed its lowest level on record at 92.7 feet below the surface. Well 5801202 near Oakalla in northeast Burnet County also showed historical lows in 2022.

Sodek noted that groundwater levels vary depending on location in the county, but the aforementioned wells are extreme examples of how the drought is affecting groundwater. Wells might not necessarily dry out immediately, but well output could decrease over time.

“It’s not an overnight thing, where it shuts off,” Sodek explained. “It’s about dwindling productivity.”