Endgame: Water for a water district

For well over two years and spanning two legislatures, Kendall County Water Control and Improvement District (WCID) No. 3 has searched for a source of water.

It now appears that a source has been found, but only if the law that protects the Edwards Aquifer can be changed by the same body that created it.

When Senate Bill (SB) 1170 was introduced by Senator Donna Campbell, a companion House Bill (HB) 1806 by Representative Tracey King was also filed.

This procedure allows identical bills to be moved through both chambers simultaneously in the short 140-day period of a regular session of the Texas Legislature.

The passage of either of these two water bills could be used to bring out-of-county water from the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) as a backup supply to WCID No. 3, but you would not know that by the language of the bills themselves.

In the vagueness of a single page, the caption states: “A bill entitled an act relating to the use of water withdrawn from the Edwards Aquifer.”

As originally written, the destination of this groundwater could have been to counties adjacent to the boundaries of the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA).

This boundary was established when the EAA was created in 1993 to protect San Antonio’s primary water supply and avoid Federal intervention over the Endangered Species Act.

Since it was introduced, HB 1806 has been changed in three ways.

After a Public Hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources, at the behest of SAWS, a cap of 6,000 acre-feet of Edwards water was included in a substitute bill and the destination of this water was changed to specify counties adjacent to Bexar County.

Intervention by Representative Kyle Biedermann, guided by his Environmental Policy Specialist Larry Bailey and District Director Bryan Benway, led to more changes after listening to and then acting on the concerns of elected officials and citizens in Kendall County.

The result was to place a further restriction on the SAWS cap of 6,000-acre feet of Edwards water that could be imported into counties surrounding Bexar County such as Kendall County.

That limit was 1,500 acre-feet and any quantity above this threshold would require SAWS to obtain the consent of the Kendall County Commissioners Court for the sale of that water.

Coincidentally, this is the ultimate quantity of water that the developer of WCID No. 3 had negotiated through SAWS. Thus, if passed, either bill would result in a water district that actually had a source of water.

At face value this would not seem out of the ordinary except that WCID No. 3, as created by Senator Campbell in 2017, is not the same as what we see today.

Once a master planned community of nearly 1,100 acres, it has shrunk to about 400 acres. This situation has left the City of Boerne and the developer unable to reach a development agreement satisfactory to both sides.

It also begs the question of who has the right to develop the remaining land within the water district as created, and who – city or county – would have the authority over its development.

Subsequently, the modified HB 1806 was referred to the Senate Committee on Rural and Water Affairs where it was scheduled for a public hearing that was curiously cancelled the next day.

Once the superior bill, but now the companion bill, SB 1170 has not been scheduled for a hearing.

With time running out to move HB 1806 out of committee for a floor vote, SB 1170 remains unchanged and would appear to have died, only to be replaced by HB 1806.

Though the fate of a bill to bring water to WCID No. 3 awaits debate, one thing is clear today about the future of water in Kendall County.

A blue wave could be coming to a city and county unprepared for the growth that would follow, and up to this point, nobody in an elected position, save one, in Austin is willing to help.

– Milan Michalec is Precinct 2 director and board president of the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District of Kendall County.

This article was featured in the Opinion Column of The Boerne Star on May 10, accessible here.