Groundwater hearing held in Amarillo

Amarillo played host to a very complex groundwater hearing on Wednesday. Staff from the Texas Water Development Board listened to testimony from opposing sides of a groundwater issue, the desired future conditions (DFC) of the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Texas Panhandle pretty much falls into the GMA 1 or groundwater management area 1. Recently the groundwater districts within GMA 1 adopted their desired future conditions or (DFC) of the aquifer in their district. GMA 1 is comprised of the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District, High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District, and the Hemphill County Underground Water Conservation District. It's that Hemphill district's desired future conditions (DFC) that really set up the debate, which led to Wednesday's hearing.

Desired future conditions simply explained, sets the percentage of available groundwater in a district that must be preserved for the next fifty years. For example, in the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District which is the central Panhandle, set a (DFC) of 50/50, 50% must be preserved 50 years from now. The Hemphill districts (DFC) is 80/50, meaning 80% of the available groundwater must be kept in place for the next 50 years.

The hearing was called because a petition was filed from Mesa Water LP and G&J Ranch which own water rights in Hemphill County. They believe that all four districts in GMA 1 should have equal or the exact same desired future conditions percentage, and they also say that the current rules allow other counties to take their water.

"This is a single aquifer or perhaps 2 subdivisions of an aquifer, for each of those sub divisions all of the people who have groundwater ownership should be treated equally," said Marty Jones, an attorney representing the Petitioners.

The respondents, GMA 1 or the 4 groundwater districts say that the rules are fair, equal, and are based on several years of collected data and input from each district. The decisions on what percentage should be preserved in the future desired conditions are based on groundwater usage, the current state of the aquifer, potential for development within the aquifer, economic and environmental impacts, estimated future demands, input from landowners in that district, among other factors.

"Different numbers are more appropriate in different areas within the different geographical areas of the aquifer, so being fair doesn't require, it's not legally required that you have one number, it's very clear that the statutes allow you to have more or varying DFCs within the aquifer," said Janet Guthrie, General Manager of the Hemphill County Underground Water Conservation District.

"We believe that the current system is fair and we believe you get equal treatment with the jurisdictional boundaries of each member district as required by law," said Guthrie.

Over 1-hundred landowners in Hemphill County are on board with the 80/50 desired future condition (DFC). Hemphill district officials say that under a 50/50 DFC the creeks and streams would dry up, and many of the trees in that area would be lost. As a result they set a higher percentage to preserve those natural flowing water sources.

The petitioners (Mesa and G&J Ranch) also say the 80/50 rule makes their water un-marketable.

Both sides, the petitioners and the groundwater districts presented information and testimony to support their side of the debate to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) staff. Those staff members will go and present the information from Today's hearing to the TWDB board. That board will then come back to the GMA 1 or the four groundwater districts with their recommendations for what the desired future conditions should be and where they stand on the debate.

The final say is in the hands of the GMA 1 joint planning committee, and they must finalize the DFCs for each district by September of 2010.