County groundwater management plan inches from approval

By Shanna Cummings

The Culberson County Groundwater Conservation District (CCGCD) board of directors is putting the finishing touches on the latest iteration of the county’s groundwater management plan. This plan ties directly to the mount of groundwater available for permits in the county, and is required by the state every five years.

Attorney Frank Ruttenberg expressed concern at the meeting about the difference between the Modeled Available Groundwater (MAG) from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for Capitan Reef and the actual amount able to be pumped from that portion of the aquifer.

According to the Texas Water Development Board website (twdb.texas.gov), the Capitan Reef aquifer splits into two sections and spans eight Texas counties. Most of the available water in the aquifer is saline, or salty, but the western portion where the reef rock is exposed in mountain ranges is less so. Culberson County falls in that area, where the water can be used to irrigate salt-tolerant crops.

Steve Finch from John Shoemaker and Assoc., a water-resource and environmental consulting firm, explained that the TWDB doesn’t have a model for that part of the Capitan Reef aquifer, and the data they use is from 2008-2009, which only includes pumping from Armstrong Farms. More recent and thorough records might show more available water in that aquifer.

“You may find out later, when you start bringing in and getting more data, is that MAG doesn’t represent the full amount of pumping that could be occurring or occur in the future,” Finch said.

CCGCD general manager Summer Webb said the board doesn’t disagree with Ruttenberg’s concern and the lack of accurate, available information about the aquifer. She explained that most of the wells there are non-permitted (drilled for domestic use and livestock rather than irrigation). Since CCGCD builds its plan based on data provided by TWDB, the lack of consistent pumping records from that area makes challenging the TWDB’s provided data difficult.

Webb said a previous plan draft included language about CCGCD’s disagreement with the provided data, but the TWDB requested its removal. “I don’t know how necessarily to fix it with appropriate language that the WDB will accept that will still get the point across,” she said.  

Steve Finch suggested using data from sources other than the TWDB but that would still meet their standard. He agreed to write some language about the discrepancy to include in the water plan as a footnote. Once the board receives the additional language, they will move to approve the water plan at the next regular meeting, barring any additional concerns.

The plan has been a work in progress for 18 months and is on its fourth draft. Once approved by the board, the plan will go on to the TWDB, which will make suggestions for edits. 

The next plan is due five years from the date of the current plan’s final adoption.