Opinion: Address Looming Water Issues in Comal County Before It’s Too Late
by Mark Friesenhahn
My name is Mark Friesenhahn and I live in southwest Comal County. I am a lifetime Texan and proud to live in the Hill Country. I am however, becoming concerned about the lack of resources to support the massive growth we’re experiencing Deep in the Heart of Texas.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in and testify before the Texas House of Representatives’ Land and Resource Management Committee in Austin.
State Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-73) presented HB 3883 during the committee’s public hearing.
The water shortage issues discussed during the hearing are based on facts, and are serious and imminent. Simply stated, Trinity Aquifer, the primary water source, is currently being stressed and depleted with no end in sight. This should concern all of us and demand the immediate attention and support of state and local leaders. We must acknowledge that unless actions such those addressed by HB 3883 are taken, we face the potential of running out of water to support our massive growth.
HB 3883 addresses severe-and-growing water shortages in the Hill Country Priority Groundwater Management Area (HCPGMA), a nine-county area comprising unincorporated areas located within Bandera, Blanco, Gillespie, Kendall and Kerr counties; and parts of Bexar, Comal, Hays, and Travis counties.
The bill gives the voters in the area rights to approve all or part of the bill or reject it, broadens the authority of county commissioners to regulate the density and number of housing units subject to water availability, and involves county commissioners in the planning and coordination of comprehensive plans of municipalities and groundwater conservation districts. HB 3883 focuses on local governmental control.
Massive residential-and-industrial growth occurring in these counties is straining available water resources and overwhelming infrastructure and services including roads and schools. Water resources in this area are about 20-percent short to meet demand now. This is expected to grow to about 40 percent by 2070. This is consistent with shortages seen statewide. Aside from moving water from other counties or from storage reservoirs (filled with existing water supplies) to make up the shortfall, there are no new water sources planned near-term.
Many farmers depend on agricultural irrigation permits for their crops.
I wonder aloud: Will my agricultural water be available, especially in severe drought conditions?
How many of us will see our water wells run dry unless serious action is taken?
Where are the new water supplies going to come from?
Do our residents living in the new subdivisions and enjoying our beautiful Hill Country realize how vulnerable our water supply really is, especially during drought conditions?
When and how will we work to develop the new water sources to support our homes, schools and businesses?
Opponents say that HB 3883 will increase housing prices and restrict development. To the contrary, HB 3883 will better align our growth with available resources. That will benefit of all of us.
I urge everyone to let our local leaders, state representatives and senators know that we are worried about our water, that the issues involved are non-partisan, and insist that they take actions now – in the current Texas legislative session – to approve bills addressing looming water shortages before it is too late.
About Mark Friesenhahn
Mark Friesenhan is a fifth-generation Texan and retired ExxonMobil engineer with 42 years of experience. He now runs a pecan farm fulltime (comalpecanfarm.com ) and serves as the lead of an eight-person technical team whose objective is to assess and quantify the issues associated with the Texas aggregate industry (APOs) and the resources needed to support the massive growth underway in many parts of Texas. He says the group’s objective is to seek resolution of seven APO key issues through education, dialogue and legislation. “We support Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining (TRAM), a 17-member coalition covering 37 Texas counties and 42-percent of the state’s population.” For more information, visit TRAMtexas.org.
Who is “Mark Stewart” and what does he have to do with all this?
As for Mark Friesenhahn, a part of the solution can be building-scale rainwater harvesting as THE water supply strategy for whole developments. Deployed house by house, it would not entail a whole lot of regulatory hassle. Use this strategy, rather than watershed-scale rainwater harvesting — which is what all of our conventional water supply systems are — to minimize the draw on those conventional supplies. This may also reduce the overall cost of water supply infrastructure, in particular the option of long distance “California-style” water transfers from remote aquifers would create huge costs. And a house by house water supply strategy would focus the costs explicitly on those who are creating the demand for water, not spread it out over the general citizenry, as those water importation schemes do. As for all the “secondary” impacts of development — traffic, stormwater, schools, etc. — that is indeed something the locals need better tools to deal with. But for water supply explicitly, just look to the sky … and be smarter.
Next time the bill should be carried by someone who has the environmental connections to get it out of committee. Unfortunately Biedermann isn’t that guy. Being bankrolled by Empower Texas is an issue.