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Groundwater district OKs Granite Shoals well permit over subdivision’s concerns

Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District General Manager Mitchell Sodek

Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District General Manager Mitchell Sodek gives a presentation on his recommendation to approve a small well permit in Granite Shoals. Several concerned residents of the Mill Creek Ranch subdivision attended a public hearing on the matter March 21 to voice their concerns over the well potentially draining their own. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District approved a small permitted well in Granite Shoals after a public hearing on the matter Tuesday, March 21. The approval came after several residents of the Mill Creek Ranch subdivision expressed concerns over the well’s potential impact on the area’s groundwater. District officials said it would have little to no effect on the subdivision.

Mills Creek Ranch resident Keith Atwood requested a hearing on the permit after seeing a public notice of the district’s intention to grant it in a local newspaper on Feb. 10. Atwood gave a thorough presentation during Tuesday’s meeting in Burnet regarding his concerns over the well’s legality and viability.

Groundwater district officials addressed his concerns and clarified that the well is legal, viable, and would almost certainly not make a measurable impact on Mill Creek Ranch’s groundwater. 

The newly permitted well was originally exempt by groundwater district standards, said district General Manager Mitchell Sodek. He added that the well’s owner, Todd Fox, followed district rules to acquire a permit to increase his pump rate to 49 gallons per minute and use a maximum of 10 acre-feet of water annually. Fox intends to sell or give the water to his neighbor, Whittlesey Landscaping Supplies, for its granite gravel mining operation. 

The well is located in Granite Shoals near RR 1431 and Phillips Ranch Road, about 3 miles southeast from Mill Creek Ranch.

“By granting this permit, we are having more control over the total water use,” Sodek said.

Since this well is considered “small” by district standards, meaning it will pump at a rate less than 50 gallons per minute and 10 acre-feet or less each year, Sodek is legally allowed to permit the well without a board vote. Atwood’s request bypassed that power, however, and Sodek brought it before the district’s board, which unanimously approved it on Tuesday.

A typical exempt well that requires no permit can pump at a rate of 17.36 gallons per minute or less. A well of this size is capable of pumping up to 28 acre-feet of water per year, so the newly permitted well, even though it can pump up to 49 gpm, will produce significantly less overall at 10 acre-feet annually, Sodek explained.

Atwood said the district is breaking its own rules by permitting the well. According to him, Fox was required to notify all landowners within a half-mile of his property that he was selling water illegally prior to receiving his permit and that the well had to be rebored to only draw from the Granite Aquifer.

Sodek addressed these concerns one by one. He said Fox had followed proper procedure by acquiring an absence of objection from his neighboring landowner, Whittlesey, prior to his permit application. That can be used in place of notifying all landowners within a half-mile radius, he continued, adding that it is not illegal by district rules to sell water without a permitted well. Landowners have the right to sell or use their groundwater as they please, Sodek said. 

Finally, he addressed the concern of “co-mingling” aquifers, meaning that the well dips into both the Granite Aquifer and the Granite Gravel Aquifer. A district rule requires certain wells to only draw from one aquifer, but that is for cases with two bodies of water with vastly different water qualities, which does not apply in this situation, Sodek said.

In his presentation, Atwood also pointed to a potential for the well to draw water from up to 2 miles away, which was countered by the district’s hydrogeological consultant, Neil Deeds.

“Based on the distance between the applicant’s well and the folks in Mill Creek, while I understand their concerns because it’s a pretty small aquifer, just given that distance (3 miles) and that it is 10 or 15 feet thick of unconfined sediment, by my expert judgment, you will not be able to detect in any of those (nearby) monitoring wells when that well is turned on,” Deeds said.

Along with Atwood, several other Mill Creek Ranch residents voiced concerns over the prolonged drought in Burnet County, the influx of new residents drawing on groundwater, and the potential for plummeting property values if their wells run dry. 

“The Granite Gravel Aquifer is the sole source of water for our household, so it is important to us,” Atwood said.

The district is currently recommending voluntary Stage 4 drought restrictions and implemented mandatory 15 percent mandatory reductions on overall groundwater use for permitted wells in Burnet County, meaning the newly permitted well will be allotted only 8.5 acre-feet of water for the year, rather than 10 acre-feet.

dakota@thepicayune.com