WESLACO — The Rio Grande Regional Water Authority’s board agreed Wednesday to research how the Rio Grande Valley could establish a regional groundwater conservation district and report back during March.
Historically, the Water Authority focused on the Rio Grande, which provided cheap water to farmers and local water utility systems. The ongoing Texas drought, though, recently renewed discussions about local groundwater, which remains virtually unregulated.
The Water Authority board tasked McAllen Public Utility Manager Roy Rodriguez, who heads the ad-hoc groundwater management subcommittee, and state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, an attorney who represents the Water Authority, to research the proposal and report back within 60 days.
“Let’s say the City of Weslaco spent a lot of money buying lots of acreage, did everything per the rules — let’s say 100 acres — and then someone, because they don’t like the City of Weslaco, buys 1 acre right next to them and starts pumping water just for waste,” Lucio said. “That’s what a groundwater district would essentially do, is prevent that waste.”
In Texas, virtually no state-level regulations cover groundwater. Unless they fall under a local or regional groundwater district or aquifer authority, landowners have broad authority to drill wells.
“The landowners do not own the water but have a right only to pump and capture whatever water is available, regardless of the effects of that pumping on neighboring wells,” according to Texas A&M University’s website on water issues.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, who heads the Water Authority, recently suggested the Valley form a regional groundwater district, which would monitor and manage groundwater usage.
“It kind of concerns me that we’re not controlling our own destiny,” Darling said.
News about the Val Verde Water Company, which proposed drilling wells in Val Verde County and selling the water to the San Antonio Water System, helped spark the idea, Darling said, along with general policy concerns about local groundwater usage. Forming a regional groundwater district would pre-empt any similar proposal in the Valley.
The proposed groundwater district would potentially cover the majority of Hidalgo County, Cameron County and Willacy County, Darling said. It would exclude Starr County, which already formed a countywide groundwater district, and areas covered by other districts.
Generally, the Texas Legislature forms groundwater districts, which must be approved by voter referendum, Lucio said. Once formed, groundwater districts may assess a small property tax or administrative fee to cover operations. Lawmakers have flexibility to modify the groundwater district’s powers, governing body and other key points — some have even been exempted from filing financial reports with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The Water Authority should research groundwater districts and proceed cautiously, Rodriguez said, to avoid potentially unnecessary regulations.
“I’m all about not trying to solve a problem we don’t have,” Rodriguez said.