By: Dana Porter, Russell Persyn and Juan Enciso*
*Assistant Professors and Extension Agricultural Engineers, and Extension Assistant-Water Management, The Texas A&M University System
The aquifers in Texas have different quantities of groundwater, recharge characteristics, and susceptibility to contamination. Demand for water from these limited resources is increasing, so our aquifers must be conserved and protected for the benefit of the state’s economy, our natural ecosystems, and our quality of life. The Texas Water Code, Chapter 36, calls for the creation of Groundwater Conservation Districts “in order to provide for the conservation, preservation, protection, recharging, and prevention of waste of groundwater, and of groundwater reservoirs or their subdivisions, and to control subsidence caused by withdrawal of water from those groundwater reservoirs or their subdivisions.” In Texas, local decision making through Groundwater Conservation Districts has been the rule and not the exception. In fact, Groundwater Conservation Districts are the state’s preferred method of groundwater management.
Texas’ diverse climatic systems, aquifers, water use patterns, population growth projections, and economy make planning for water use a complex issue. Groundwater Conservation Districts are formed according to local needs; therefore, the roles of the districts reflect differences in local needs. Some districts serve primarily to protect water quality; others work mainly to promote conservation of limited supplies, or to combat subsidence.
Groundwater Conservation Districts are carrying out a number of successful programs to protect and conserve the state’s water supplies.
Purpose of Groundwater Districts
Groundwater Conservation Districts have assigned duties, and they may invoke authorized powers necessary to fulfill their duties.
A Groundwater Conservation District is required to:
- Develop and adopt a comprehensive management plan for efficiently using groundwater and preventing its waste. The plan also must include measures for preventing land subsidence. This plan must be submitted to, and certified by, the Texas Water Development Board and filed with other districts within a common groundwater management area.
- Adopt rules necessary to implement the management plan.
- Require permits for drilling, equipping, completing, or substantially altering the size of water wells.
A Groundwater Conservation District may also:
- Make and enforce rules necessary to implement the water management plan.
- Make surveys of the groundwater resources.
- Regulate the spacing of wells and/or production of wells.
- Require that unused or abandoned wells be capped or plugged.
The common goal of all Groundwater Conservation Districts is to conserve groundwater resources through local management in order to ensure adequate water for their districts in the future.
Promoting Water Conservation through Education and Public Awareness
Groundwater Conservation Districts use a variety of programs and media to inform the public about water issues and to raise public awareness of the need for water conservation. News releases and public service announcements distributed through newspapers, radio stations and television stations offer timely information to large general audiences. Some districts publish bulletins and fact sheets with in-depth information on a variety of topics. These materials are distributed at local offices and exhibits at area events. Some districts use Internet sites to make information even more widely accessible. In several districts, newsletters keep subscribers informed of issues, programs and activities in the district.
Groundwater Conservation Districts reach young audiences by distributing educational materials through public schools. These include water conservation textbook covers and other water conservation information. Districts also organize field trips and assist teachers with water education curricula. Some districts sponsor more comprehensive water programs, such as the Learning to Be Water Wise and Energy Efficient program (http://www.getwise.org/) and the Major Rivers Water Education program in elementary schools.
Assisting in Water Conservation through Technical Services
Groundwater Conservation Districts can provide a range of technical support services to help water users with conservation. Such services include monitoring precipitation and aquifer water levels. Several districts test wells, pump plant efficiency, and irrigation system efficiency. Water quality testing can vary from biological evaluations (coliform and fecal coliform bacteria) to more complete water quality analyses (including alkalinity, hardness, chloride, specific conductivity, total dissolved solids, fluoride, iron, ammonia, nitrate, sulfate and pH.) In some districts, water analysis is offered free of charge to residents of the district, and may be offered on a fee basis to residents outside the district. For specific information on water analysis services and fees, residents should contact their districts.
To help farmers implement water conservation practices, some districts make the necessary equipment available for loan. Laser land leveling equipment and furrow dikers, for instance, may be made available for improving agricultural irrigation efficiency. Districts also may participate in the Agricultural Water Conservation Equipment Loan Program through the Texas Water Development Board. Through this program, the districts can make low interest loans available to farmers and ranchers to help them install highly efficient irrigation systems (such as the Low Energy Precision Application systems.) Some districts offer funding and technical assistance for plugging unused or abandoned water wells.
Permitting and Rulemaking Activities
Groundwater Conservation Districts are granted the authority to make and enforce rules for conserving, preserving, protecting, and recharging groundwater, and for controlling subsidence. According to the Texas Water Code, the districts must require permits for drilling, equipping, or completing wells or substantially altering the size of wells or well pumps. Districts may require that unused or abandoned wells be capped or plugged. Districts may regulate well spacing and/or pumpage rates in order to control subsidence and to prevent excessive water table drawdown or reduction of artesian pressure.
Financing Alternatives: Funding for District Activities
Groundwater Conservation Districts vary in size, from partial county or single county districts to multiple county districts. Staffing levels vary from one part-time position to several full-time positions, depending upon the goals of the Boards of Directors and the contributions of the local taxpayers.
The Texas Water Code, Chapter 36, allows groundwater districts to levy property taxes to pay maintenance and operating expenses at a rate not to exceed 50 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation. Most district activities are funded through these ad valorem taxes, for which the maximum tax rates are set by local election. Districts surveyed reported ad valorem tax rates of $0.0045 to $0.0575 per $100 valuation. Hence, the annual tax paid on property valued at $100,000 ranges from $4.50 to $57.50.
Some districts are financed through user fees, which are assessed on the basis of the volume of water pumped or the volume permitted/allocated. Other sources of revenue include permitting fees, permit application fees, and fees for services (water analyses, etc.) provided outside district boundaries. Some districts are able to provide special services and programs funded by grants for special projects from the Texas Water Development Board and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).
Special Projects and Research Efforts
Groundwater Conservation Districts conduct special projects, often in cooperation with other agencies and districts, to address special needs. These special projects include groundwater modeling, groundwater recharge through infiltration and injection, area subsidence measurements, groundwater mapping, enhancement of recharge, and weather modification programs. Such projects may be cooperatively funded by federal, state and/or local agencies.
Harris-Galveston Coastal Subsidence District http://www.subsidence.org/
High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1 http://www.hpwd.com/
Learning to Be Water Wise and Energy Efficient. Nonprofit National Energy Foundation, Salt Lake City, Utah. http://www.getwise.org/
The authors appreciate the contributions of the Groundwater Conservation Districts in preparing this publication. Special thanks to Scott Holland, President, Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts, for his assistance.
Download a printer-friendly version of this publication: Groundwater Conservation Districts: Success Stories
Do you have a question -or- need to contact an expert?