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District looks to increase tract size for wells; New rules propose 5-acre minimum

By Richard Greene | Published Wednesday, October 10, 2018
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Next year the minimum lot size for drilling a water well in Wise County could increase to five acres from the currently required two.

The change is in the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District’s rules update, a draft of which could be released after its meeting Monday.

UTGCD General Manager Doug Shaw said the release of the draft would be followed by public hearings in all four counties in which the district oversees groundwater permitting and conservation – Hood, Montague, Parker and Wise. After addressing comments from the hearings, the rules could be adopted in early 2019.

Shaw said the change is to increase spacing between wells and protect aquifer resources that have been reduced due to an influx of drilling in the past decade.

“There’s more water wells drilled in our four counties than any other groundwater district in the state,” Shaw said. “There’s more wells drilled in Parker County than any county in the state. Wise County has consistently been in the top 10 to top 15 in the state.”

Last year, he 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.

“It’s just the proliferation of wells that could potentially cause a longterm issue in water levels,” Shaw said.

“We have regulatory authority over public water supply wells, wells for oil and gas purposes, commercial wells. We have the ability to permit and limit the amount of water they produce each year. With domestic wells, the only real authority we have with them is tract size. Once they are in the ground, they can pump 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The only regulatory authority we really have is to limit the number of straws going into the ground. The only way we can get there is increasing the tract size.”

The district has been gathering data for the past 10 years to develop the new rules.

In that data, the district looked at the recharge rate of the expansive Trinity Aquifer.

“Basically, you can estimate that 4.4 percent, so not even 4.5 percent of rainfall, makes it into the ground,” Shaw said. “Of that 4.5 percent, 99 percent of that rainfall is rejected. So in other words, 1 percent of 4 percent of rainfall actually recharges the aquifer.

“In the entire aquifer, 20 to 30 times more is taken out than is put back in.”

Shaw added that some public water suppliers in Parker County that depend on groundwater saw a sharp decline in production during this summer’s drought.

The larger lot requirement will impact some development in Wise County, especially for new additions not putting in a public water system or tying in with another district.

Shaw said he’s staged meetings with several builders since the word started trickling out about the possible change.

“County officials have been supportive. Obviously, the developers are the ones it’s going to impact the greatest,” he said.

Wise County Judge J.D. Clark said he’s visited with Shaw and seen many of the groundwater models the district has used to come up with the proposed rules.

“The data projections are alarming,” Clark said. “It’s an important conversation to have as a groundwater district and county. We’re seeing an increase in housing developments, and one of the questions that I come back to: do we have water for all these people?”

Clark indicated his support for the tract size increase.

“Things like this encourages good sustainable growth,” he said.

Plats on 2 acres currently in development will be honored after the rules change, according to Shaw and Clark.

“Any of the subdivisions that are already configured or the preliminary plat has been submitted to the county, we’re not going to change the rules for,” Shaw said. “But moving forward, that’s all 5 acres.”

There will be few exceptions. To get one ,a developer must show the groundwater source in the area is sustainable through site specific testing.

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