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Violating groundwater users get compliance orders over fines, for now

River Oaks Water System owner Gerard Ortiz

River Oaks Water System owner Gerard Ortiz holds a Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District drought sign. River Oaks Water System was one of six permitted groundwater users in Burnet County found in violation of groundwater permits in 2022. Ortiz agreed to get usage under control and requested a sign be placed on County Road 118, where River Oaks subdivision residents could see it. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District issued “agreed orders” to six permitted groundwater users that went above their allotted annual water usage in 2022. Some of the users pledged to get usage under control, some weren’t aware they were overusing, and one lawyered up. 

The Groundwater Conservation District held a show-cause hearing on Monday, Aug. 21, to give the six permit holders an opportunity to explain how their usage got out of hand during a serious drought. All six entities were asked to sign an agreed order requiring them to report their monthly usage and prove they can remain within their permitted usage for the next 12 months. They can also apply for an amendment to their permits and ask for more water rights, which would then be reviewed by the district.

“Instead of just outright enforcing right now, the board wants compliance,” district General Manager Mitchell Sodek told after the meeting. “That’s the ultimate goal. We’re not just out to fine somebody; we’re trying to make sure that they understand the rules and the permit so they can stay within the limits.”

Of the six entities found in violation of their 2022 groundwater usage, representatives of three of them attended the show-cause hearing on Monday. Three signed the agreed order prior to the hearing and a fourth signed during the hearing.

Corix Utilities and Tributary Shooting Club neither attended the meeting nor signed the agreed order, a situation that will be addressed at the district’s next Board of Directors meeting on Sept. 15. 

The city of Highland Haven, Eagle Mountain Ranch, and RFHDAH LP all signed the agreed order prior to the meeting. River Oaks Water System owner Gerard Ortiz agreed to sign during the meeting after letting the board know he had not developed a drought management plan or informed his users (residents of the River Oaks subdivision) that they needed to conserve water.

“To be honest, we have not really worked on implementing a drought contingency plan, we have not really pushed for our people to use less water,” he said. “That’s our fault.”

River Oaks Water System is permitted to use up to 46 acre-feet of groundwater annually but was found to have gone over that amount by 11.49 acre-feet in 2022 and 5.51 acre-feet in 2020.

The Groundwater Conservation District is currently recommending 30 percent voluntary reductions for groundwater users in Burnet County in accordance with Stage 4 of its drought management plan. It has also implemented 15 percent mandatory reductions on annual permitted use for the first time in its history.

The city of Highland Haven, which exceeded its annual permit of 82 acre-feet of groundwater by 3.84 acre-feet, was represented by Mayor Olan Kelley, who took responsibility for the city’s overuse and acknowledged the need to get it under control.

“We’re going to work closely with the district and invite whatever comments or processes that we need to consider as we go through this,” he said.

RFHDAH LP and Eagle Mountain Ranch did not have representatives attend the meeting, but both signed the agreed orders prior to the meeting. RFHDAH LP exceeded its 150 acre-foot permit by a large margin of 82.94 acre-feet. Eagle Mountain Ranch exceeded its 4.5 acre-feet by 0.48 acre-feet.

Corix Utilities, which holds multiple permits with the district, did not send a representative or sign the agreed order prior to the meeting. Sodek noted that the entity seemed agreeable to the order, but it went unsigned by Monday’s hearing. Corix exceeded its permitted use of 103.5 acre-feet by only 0.98 acre-feet.

Tributary Shooting Club acquired the legal services of Shell and Shell Law Offices and requested more time to discuss the agreed order before signing. The club exceeded its 2 acre-foot permit by 5.72 acre-feet in 2022 and 1.01 acre-feet in 2021.

The district has the authority to fine each of the six for each day of their known violations by up to $500, but board President Ryan Rowney said this wasn’t what they were trying to accomplish.

“We don’t want to have to go down the path of being punitive, that’s not what we’re here for as a general rule, but we will if we’re pushed to that point,” he told “I think (the hearing) was successful, but we still want to hear from those folks (who didn’t attend or sign the agreed order) next month and get things resolved and move forward.”

1 thought on “Violating groundwater users get compliance orders over fines, for now

  1. Is the conservation district equally passive with residential water abusers? What kind of people take 50% and nearly 4 times more than their share of community water? If RFHDAH (who is this anyway?) and Tributary Shooting Club can’t publicly explain themselves and apologize to the community, they should be fined to the maximum. Next time, they should be charged with theft of public services and run out of the water district.

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