Aransas Co. | "Winding Up Operations, Temporary Board of Directors, A.Co.G.C.D." by Tom Callan, Chairman

Groundwater Conservation District
301 North Live Oak
Rockport, TX 78382

December 20, 2016

Honorable Burt Mills, County Judge

Honorable Jack Chaney, Commissioner Precinct 1
Honorable Bubba Casterline, Commissioner Precinct 2
Honorable Brian Olsen, Commissioner Precinct 3
Honorable Betty Stiles, Commissioner Precinct 4

Subject: Winding Up Operations, Temporary Board of Directors, Aransas County Groundwater Conservation District

Lady and Gentlemen:

As you all are aware, the election held on May 7th 2016 to create a Groundwater Conservation District for our county was soundly defeated by voters by a margin of 8 to one. Since that time the board has been meeting periodically to understand why this was the case and what should be done over the next few years until the legislature might see fit to extend the authorization of a GWCD for Aransas County.

Recently a meeting was held as a workshop to enable dialogue between the board and certain very vocal opponents of creation of the GWCD. Other regular meetings were held but became acrimonious when we as a board were unwilling to discuss items not on the agenda for the meetings. The persons attending these meetings were unfamiliar with and did not care to abide by provisions of the open meetings act, even after explanation, and felt shut out and frustrated.

Further adding to the obvious communications issue, some questions were being asked to which the board could not give definitive answers. All of the questions being asked concerned provisions of the District Management Plan which is written after GWCD authorization and is subject to approval by the Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Our responses, by necessity of adding these qualifications, did not give confidence to anyone. Further, some of the issues being discussed require study and careful evaluation of scientific data that would also have to be developed at a later date when funding would be available to pay for it. This is also the reason that a new board has two years to develop an initial plan. We heard frequent comparisons to Obamacare which we all can appreciate.

And these voters did not want to vote for a tax to prepare for lack of groundwater which might or might not be in short supply fifty years hence. They want proof that there is going to be a problem. This depends on so many variables that it is doubtful that anyone could develop a set of assumptions acceptable to a majority of the voting public without several years of study by people smarter than us.

There was also an assumption that money was being spent as the district has not been dissolved as they assumed would happen after the election. The fact of the matter of course is that the Directors did not believe it to be in the public interest to wind up operations while there was a chance to change minds. Your Directors have proceeded to work on a pro bono basis with no expectation of payment of any kind or sort. Since the election there have not been consultants hired nor secretarial help paid for. The only continuing expense has been two, one day trips to Victoria to advise GMA 15 of the election results and to participate in GMA 15 authorization of a the current two year GMA 15 Desired Future Conditions report to the Texas Water Development Board in which the temporary board participated. Paper and ink and 5 inexpensive flash drives required for the preparation of agendas and meetings have been the only expenditures. Considering the many hours of pro bono work on behalf of the County and the public these costs were insignificant.

The remaining major issue has to do with a misunderstanding that a Groundwater Conservation District somehow negates the longstanding rule of capture clearly explained in Chapter 36 of the water code. By being a regulatory authority the GWCD can regulate the amount of water which may be withdrawn from a well but this does not negate the right of the landowner to ownership of the water underlying his land. Without a GWCD the rule of capture is only enforceable through the courts, often at great expense to the owners involved. With a GWCD permitting and registration process many potential disagreements which might wind up in the courts can be prevented in the first place.

It was hoped to educate this group to the extent that they could consider supporting rather than opposing the creation of a GWCD. It now appears that this is not possible. With your concurrence I will ask the Directors to approve cessation of all Aransas County Groundwater Conservation District activities and operations. Given the ages and inclination of the Directors now involved I encourage you to name new directors when and if rekindling the establishment of a GWCD is contemplated.

Lessons learned include allowing at least 18 months of preparation prior to the election, holding several well advertised town meetings, and bringing in outside speakers with experience and success in other counties as guest speakers, establishing an advocacy group, and employing social media to the greatest extent possible.

I continue to believe that a GWCD is worthwhile for Aransas County and regret that this attempt was not successful.

Tom Callan

Copy: Director John Alexander
Director Ed Hegen
Director Robert Walls
Director Ed Hegen

Revised 12/20/2016
The above text has been slightly formatted for and by the WWN from a .pdf document.

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