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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Horace Blake
May 19, 2015
The nation has been experiencing population booms in the Southwest and neighboring states where water resources for residential and commercial uses require stringent management tools. With the growing population and the recurring drought periods, there is additional pressures on very limited water resources. Local governments have resorted to creating local water districts to handle the problems. These districts are dedicated to managing and maintaining water resources in terms of usage, disposal cleaning and redistribution for very specific areas.
Creation of Local Water Districts
The Texas constitution authorizes the legislature to create special districts for water management (Article 3, section 52) and for conservation and development of natural resources (Article 16, section 59). With this authorization, 13 water districts were created. The water code regulates the creation of groundwater conservation districts and the election of their local boards, according to Karen O’Connor, Larry J. Sabato, Stefan D. Haag and Gary A. Keith in their book, Essentials of American & Texas Government: Continuity and Change.
In cases where there is no local body to create those needed districts, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEC) can designate a priority groundwater management area. TEC can also force hearings and elections to create a district like it did by designating a section of Comal County in Central Texas.
Mining and Citizen Rights Versus State Politics
Texas, a state rich with mineral and natural resources has faced a challenge between its water management and booming natural resource business such as oil and in recent times natural gas.
Conventional gas extracted from porous rocks, like shale is very impermeable. In order to release the gas, operators use a method called fracking which essentially pumps water, sand and chemicals into the rock at high pressure. This technique has been used for decades, but the improved ability to steer drill bits using off-the-shelf technology has made fracking cost-effective. The ability to perform surface data acquisition to locate gas in the rock, rather than drill right through the shale as was done previously has also reduced its costs.
With the advent of fracking, many communities are very concerned how this new gas technology will affect access to potable ground water. When gas is extracted out of the wells, heavily contaminated water is also removed. On occasion, the contaminated water will seep into aquifers and needed ground water due to poor handling. Denton, a local county in Texas, was able to gather enough support to ban fracking in the area due to concerns about water and seismic activity.
The power of the oil and gas industry is very active within the halls of the Texas state capitol. The 85th Texas legislature has met in Austin and several legislators have jockeyed to pass a bill that renders Denton’s ban on fracking as invalid. In this effort, it is stated that the county may not have the right to approve such a ban due to infringement on citizens’ rights on their property. This has other jurisdictions carefully watching the outcome with great interest. This could mean the loss or gain of revenue and employment or a cleaner safer environment.
Local Jurisdiction Managing Water Resources
In larger Texas jurisdictions, the Environmental and Protection Agency is very forth-right in their mandate to protect the treatment and disposal of large quantities of water. Cities are required to submit a yearly plan that is aligned with what is expected for the treatment of storm water and waste water, as well as the cleanup of streams and creeks that carry water. This is to make sure that pollutants do not leak into holding lakes which would have a devastating effect on fish and wildlife.
Restaurants, car washes and landscape businesses are required to conform to proper processing and disposal of waste water. Storm drains are monitored to make sure pool water, cuttings from landscape and gardening is not allowed to enter into the water treatment or holding system lakes. Home repair and commercial remodeling requires that the necessary bins or holding equipment is used to avoid any contaminated items or materials being exposed to rain water that will make its way to these holding lakes.
Additionally, educational opportunities are an ongoing. Students, residents and businesses have access to literature and other information that will educate them on safe, sustainable waste water practices and management as well as adhere to set policies and regulations.
While these rules remain in place, smaller jurisdictions wait to learn whether their efforts may or may not be restricted.
Author: Horace A. Blake is a three-term city commissioner with 20 years combined community action experience at municipal and state level. Blake currently serves on the Storm Water Management Team, working with the city and the community in water management, education and sustainable related issues.