The Groundwater District is doing the right thing and deserves our support. Harsh words and criticism, much of it unfair, have recently been directed toward the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District. While no governmental body or public servant is above criticism, we need to step back and look at the big picture.
The District was created by the Texas Legislature in 1999 and later confirmed by a majority of the voters in Pecos County. The District’s job is to conserve, preserve, and protect groundwater resources within Pecos County. The District may limit groundwater production and regulate the spacing of wells in order to do so. And it must pursue these purposes while respecting private property rights including the ownership of groundwater. The District’s Board of Directors sets policy and makes regulatory and permitting decisions while its staff, including its general manager Paul Weatherby, works hard at administering the District’s programs.
The District is no stranger to controversy. In 2009, Fort Stockton Holdings LP (FSH), owned by the Clayton Williams family, filed an application for a permit to allow the production and transport of over 15 billion gallons of groundwater per year from the Leon-Belding area to undetermined locations outside of the County for industrial and municipal use. Following a five-day hearing held in May of 2011, the District’s Board voted unanimously to deny FSH’s permit application. The Board rested its decision on several compelling and legally-sound reasons including that: (1) FSH failed to show that its project would not have unreasonable affects on groundwater resources and existing permit holders; (2) the requested permit was too speculative; and (3) the application was improperly linked to Williams’ historic use of groundwater for irrigation. The District also found FSH’s witnesses to be evasive and unable to answer basic questions about the relevant science.
FSH has sued the District, asking the courts to reverse the District’s decision to deny. Late last year, a highly respected, appointed judge from Kerrville, siting in Pecos County, affirmed the District’s decision, ruling that its denial of FSH’s permit application was legal and proper. FSH has appealed the judge’s decision to the El Paso Court of Appeals and that appeal is currently pending.
More recently, a Dallas-based company known as Republic Water of Texas filed a similar permit application to allow it to produce and export more than 9 billion gallons of groundwater per year from the Leon-Belding area. Importantly, the rights to groundwater that forms the basis of Republic’s application are leases with FSH for the very same water that is the subject of FSH’s permit application, which is still under litigation. Moreover, Republic’s application involves the same wells and is tied to the same historic use of groundwater as FSH’s application.
At its meeting on April 19, 2016, the District’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to suspend any further processing and consideration of Republic’s application until the conclusion of the pending lawsuit concerning the closely-related FSH application. As one of the District’s directors explained, the District is in the middle of an appeal that involves the same wells, the same property, the same water rights and the same historic use permits as those which are linked to Republic’s application.
The District rightly determined that it cannot and should not process a new application for the same water that is the subject of FSH’s application and the ongoing litigation. The decision to abate and suspend consideration is the best and most sensible action that the District can take with respect to Republic’s application.
The District is guided and managed by humans who, like all of us, are imperfect and, from time-to-time, make mistakes. In the instances described above, however, they are acting responsibly and in accordance with the law to protect the water of Pecos County. They have given the people of Pecos County years of hard work and diligence in seeking fulfill their duties to manage, preserve and protect the groundwater resources of this area, and continue to do so. They serve without compensation and are true public servants. They are deserving of our respect and support.