ABCs of DFCs

The Boerne Star

Alphabet Soup – just add water

At the Trail

By Micah Voulgaris – Cibolo Nature Center
August 19, 2009
A good friend of mine assures me it is possible to complete a sentence using nothing but acronyms. Further, this feat was accomplished in the halls of the State Capitol while talking to a highly placed elected official who understood every acronym uttered.

I am told both were stricken speechless afterward and decided they had been in the government soup too long.

Add water, scientists and politics to PGMAs, RWPGs and GMAs, GAMs, WAMs, DFCs and, last but not least, MAGs and you have a recipe for spicy alphabet soup.

Water or the lack of water is a major state issue, particularly for the western half of the state. Since the drought of record during the 1950s, state and local governments have struggled to find a way to manage water resources without causing a range war.

Beginning in 1990, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) designated certain areas of the state as “critical” or, in other words, an area probable to experience critical groundwater shortages within a 25-year period.

After the dust settled, the designation was changed from “critical” to Priority Groundwater Management Area (PGMA). The Hill Country served by the Trinity Group Aquifers was one of the first to be designated a PGMA – fondly referred to as a “pig-ma.”

Long on controversy and short on science, the Hill Country PGMA was divided among three planning regions under legislation of Senate Bill 1 in 1997, which created Regional Water Planning Groups (RWPG).

RWPG are charged with planning all water resources – surface water and groundwater – to ensure each county in the region has sufficient water to sustain its projected population and economic needs.

Because the Hill Country PGMA is split among three diverse regions and data on the Trinity Group Aquifers was limited, TWDB took responsibility for developing a Groundwater Availability Model (GAM).

Projections derived from the Trinity Group Aquifer GAM and the surface water WAMs (Water Availability Model) are used by the RWPG to plan water supply and/or conservation projects.

To recap: PGMAs need GAMs and WAMs to feed RWPG.

Senate Bill 1 mandated the formation of groundwater districts as the best method to manage underground water resources. Senate Bill 2 in 2001 recognized the need to delineate areas in all the major and minor aquifers into groundwater management areas (GMA).

The 16 newly formed GMA boundaries include the underground water resources and the political subdivision boundaries. The legislation helped to determine which groundwater districts needed to coordinate management plans.

Kendall County and the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District are located in GMA-9.

New requirements (2005) for joint planning among groundwater conservation districts (GCD) mandates “not later than Sept. 1, 2010, and every five years thereafter, the districts shall consider groundwater availability models and other data or information for the management area and shall establish “desired future conditions” (DFC) for the relevant aquifers with the management area.

DFCs are very important. They describe the condition of the aquifers at a time in the future (50 years) and determined by a two-thirds vote of the districts present at an annual meeting.

The description of DFC is then used to develop a volumetric number of water available to withdraw from the aquifers – a managed available groundwater, MAG. MAG allows the groundwater districts to issue permits only up to the total amount of groundwater available to support DFC.

Recap: GMAs decide DFCs for TWDB GAMs to generate MAGs for the GCDs.

The MAG is then incorporated into the district’s management plan and becomes the cap for groundwater production in the county. Wars have been fought for less provocation.

TWDB is recommending a consensus approach to resolve competing interests among the stakeholders in the GMA. The approach combines science and policy to establish socioeconomic and environmental goals. The numbers are reviewed by the stakeholders and an appeal process is in place.

Soup’s on in September 2010 and it is going to take at least that long to quantify the amount of water available for pumping.

Micah Voulgaris is general manager of Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District.

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