East Texas fights to keep water in East Texas

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Morgan Thomas - email

LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - Groundwater experts say East Texans, for the most part, are lucky.

Underground aquifers, unlike in other parts of the state, replenish themselves.

Areas like the metroplex, West Texas, and Central Texas aren't as fortunate in the water department.

"They got a pretty finite aquifer up there in the Okalla," said David Alford, general manager of Piney Woods Groundwater Conservation District. "So it really doesn't have much recharge to it."

Especially when they look to the future.

"Very simple thing: If people over in this area don't have enough water for their needs, they've got two choices," attorney John Stover said. "One, they can go and find a way to move the water to them or they can move where the water is."

Stover says thirsty entities may look to East Texas' water supply to supplement theirs.

Groundwater districts try to control how much water leaves the district.

The Piney Woods district covers Angelina and Nacogdoches counties. Alford says keeping East Texas water deserves attention.

"We can also control how much water goes out of the district as far as transport," Alford said. "Without a district anybody would come into your county and sink some wells and pump out water from your county or district."

Most East Texans agree that our region's progress into the future depends on plentiful, clean groundwater. For area industries, it's vital to their operations.

Manufacturing giant, Temple-Inland, is a high-user in the Pineywoods district.

Part of the solution is the state-mandated groundwater management plan which sets forth the desired outlook of the aquifer through 2060.

To make sure those conditions are met, groundwater districts regulate how much water specific wells can pump out.

"We do put a restriction on the permits that we issue, but those permits are based on what the actual use will be or projected use," Alford said.

Larger wells are monitored.

"We require them to be metered and those usages are reported to us," Alford said. "We maintain records and keep track of how much water is being used annually, monthly and quarterly."

That covers the industrial and municipal wells for the most part, however, what concerns many groundwater experts in East Texas is fracking.

"You have all these oil and gas companies looking for water for fracking, fracturing formation," Stover said.

Alford says these booming businesses are high-users, but it's usually short-term.

Attorney Terry Wood, who has worked cases against these companies, says Texas lacks good oversight of oil and gas drilling.

"There  are a lot of times where nobody pays attention or even if they do pay attention, they see stuff that they don't like they may not have the sophistication or resources to be able to stand up to these people," Wood said.

The districts try their best to track where these types of wells are. Fines are levied if rules aren't followed.

"Failure to report water usage, failure to fill out applications before drilling a well in the district, failure to fill out a report after the well is drilled," Alford said.

Keeping water in East Texas, now and in the future, is a fight that should involve every East Texan.

"Because of the demands of industrial growth and population growth we need to manage it," Alford said.

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