Crowd voices concerns on water rules; District looking to change lot size regs

By Richard Greene | Published Wednesday, November 21, 2018

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Developer Scott Mauldin is on board with the need to conserve water, but also has worries about the growing values of property in Wise County.

Mauldin was among realtors, property owners and builders that turned out Thursday at Weatherford College Wise County for the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District’s public hearing on its proposed rule changes. Among the rule changes is an amendment to increase the lot size needed to drill a water well from 2 to 5 acres.

“I see waste daily in rural development,” Mauldin said. “They are not conserving.

“My concern is what it’ll do to being able to put affordable properties on the ground.”

Thursday’s hearing in Wise County followed hearings in Weatherford and Granbury. The UTGCD also held a hearing in Montague County Thursday. The district oversees groundwater permitting and conservation in Hood, Montague, Parker and Wise.

The district’s general manager Doug Shaw said they are trying to gather as much public feedback as possible at the hearings. The district’s board will review public comments at its meeting Monday in Springtown.

“I fully expect some board discussion on the issues raised [at the public hearings],” Shaw said.

“We got a lot of good feedback, and there were a lot of valid concerns raised. Our concern is what we’re doing is not sustainable and we can’t continue to kick the can down the road.”

UTGCD President Tracy Mesler of Nocona understands many of the concerns.

“There’s been a lot of good points. We got a lot of pushback in Parker and Hood counties from developers,” Mesler said. “Our concern is if a young couple makes an investment in a home they plan on living in for 30 years, and the last 10 years the well is not producing any water. We’ve done a disservice.”

The UTGCD is looking to increase the lot size requirement to limit the amount of wells. In October, Shaw said the district processed more than 600 well applications in Parker County and nearly 400 in Wise County. Districtwide there were 1,200.

In the 150 wells where they monitor water levels, the areas where they see the largest water level decline is around large subdivisions with wells.

Shaw said the changes are to protect the aquifer.

“There’s only so much water,” Shaw said.

“Where we are seeing the issues are where there’s a well on every lot [in rural developments]. There’s no reason to conserve because there’s no water bill. The only authority we have is to limit the number of wells.”

After reviewing the public comments, the district’s board of directors could adopt the new rules as early as its Dec. 17 meeting.

“That’s at the earliest,” Shaw said. “I could see it being pushed back to early next year. We don’t want to wait too long before the legislature gets rolling.”

Mesler agreed that new legislation passed after January regarding groundwater is a concern.

“I wish we knew the legislature wouldn’t do anything,” Mesler said.

Any properties with preliminary plats filed before the effective date of the new rules will be grandfathered in under the current 2-acre requirement. In his presentation, Shaw said an applicant will have until Sept. 1, 2019, to provide evidence to the district that they were in the process of developing a subdivision with lots at least 2 acres in size prior to the effective date.

The district will grant some exemptions if an applicant can provide site-specific hydrogeologic testing to prove the smaller tract size will have sufficient long-term groundwater availability.

Multiple people in the crowd expressed concern about the rules changing so quickly.

“The role [the district] plays is critical for our future and the towns they serve,” said Andrew Rottner. “The steps they are taking are needed for current and future generations to get water.

“I’m not sure they’ve studied the immediate impact that they are going to have across the board on folks. It’s going to impact a lot of people – people looking for land, developers, land owners, realtors, builders and financial institutions. It’s across the board; it’s going to impact people. They do need to pull the trigger at some point, but is three months really enough window and notice for all the affected parties? Nine to 12 months makes more sense. What they are doing is right and I 100 percent agree with it.”

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