By John Lowman
Published June 15, 2007
ANGLETON - Proposed changes to Brazoria County Groundwater Conservation District rules would clarify commercial vs. residential water use and discourage export of water from the county, officials say.
The district's board had a public hearing on the issue Thursday with a half-dozen residents attending. Local changes are in line with House Bill 4114, which passed the Texas House and Senate and is awaiting Gov. Rick Perry's signature.
If the district's revised rules pass a 30-day written public comment period, residential and agricultural wells would remain exempt from metering and fees. Commercial users - which would include non-agricultural entities profiting from use or sale of groundwater - might be assessed 3 cents per 1,000 gallons used. Changes apply to wells, not surface water.
The district also could charge users outside Brazoria County up to 150 percent of the wholesale price of water in the Houston area.
Angleton attorney Mark Neal spoke against the definition of residential and commercial users. He addressed a situation in which someone might use groundwater for a pond on residential or agricultural land which could be used for commercial purposes, but water would not be sold or removed from the area.
Under rules as passed in HB 3602, which allowed creation of the district, "Those wells would not be charged and not even metered," Neal said. He also indicated the proposed change was contrary to information district proponents used to convince 56 percent of voters to vote in favor of creating the district two years ago.
Directors did not comment during the public hearing, but afterward, Pct. 2 panelist John Pyburn said homeowners, farmers and ranchers have no cause for alarm.
"I've been involved in this from day one. The intent was never to charge metering or fees to residential or agricultural users. It still isn't and it will never be," Pyburn said. "You'd have to get a complete rule change through the Legislature, and I don't think you could ever do that."
Commercial entities using groundwater would be charged 3 cents per 1,000 gallons as part of the rules change. Such entities would report usage "on the honor system" for the time being, District Administrative Consultant Kent Burkett said.
The proposed Brazoria County change is not intended as a punishment but a clarification, Burkett said.
"Some of the verbiage in the original bill allowed some individuals to claim they were exempt," he said. "It's not really widespread, but was enough to warrant clarifying the language. Nothing will change for well owners in the county. All private homes are exempt in the past and in the untold future, as are agricultural users."
The main reason voters approved the district was to protect the county's groundwater supply, Pyburn said. Proposed changes would do just that, he said.
Until the district was created, Houston and Galveston - both growing toward Brazoria County - could have tapped into county supplies. With a potential charge of up to 150 percent of the wholesale price of Houston water, that should be curtailed if not prevented, Pyburn said.
"We want to keep the water we have for the people in Brazoria County. We had no way to control that before we formed a conservation district," he said. "Anybody could have come down here and piped water back to their municipalities and we could have done nothing about it. Now that the district is in place, we have the means to keep that from happening."
Currently, the county may charge up to 4.5 cents per 1,000 gallons exported, which isn't much of a deterrent, Pyburn said.
"When the bill was revised and corrected, we asked for implementation of fees that would discourage people from taking water from the county," he said. "The object isn't to hurt people; it's to protect the quality and quantity of our groundwater supply and keep it here for our people."
To comment on proposed changes by July 15, write the district office at 451 N. Velasco St., Suite 290, Angleton, TX 77515.
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