The Somervell County Commissioner’s Court addressed water district concerns at a special meeting Monday morning. Rapidly changing laws have left the county scrambling to join an established groundwater conservation district (GCD) before the state forces Somervell into a Priority Groundwater Management Area (PGMA) with Mclennan County.
“Nobody really knows what’s going on. The only thing we know right now is that if we don’t do anything we’ll get put in where we don’t want, where we won’t have equal representation,” said Somervell County Judge Walter Maynard.
PGMA board representation is determined by county population. Mclennan has approximately 40,000 residents compared to an estimated 8,000 in Somervell.
GCDs and PGMAs are responsible for managing groundwater resources. Their duties include granting well permits, performing water quality tests and protecting the aquifer through water management and conservation education.
Somervell County first considered joining the Middle Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (MTGCD) that includes Erath and Comanche County and is financed through ad valorem taxes. But Maynard said they decided not to join MTGCD when county officials realized Somervell would supply 68 percent of the district’s budget.
MTGCD recently approved a $.015 per $100 in value property tax rate, the same tax rate the district implemented when MTGCD was established.
“We must be a fee-based district,” Maynard said.
A fee-based district assesses fees for commercially used wells that pump 25,000 gallons or more a day. Wells are metered to keep track of usage.
Joining a fee-based district means large consumers such as the city of Glen Rose would be charged for water usage through well production fees. However, municipalities across the state have begun to challenge their fees, claiming they are exempt.
If Somervell is forced into a PGMA, an election will be scheduled to determine if the PGMA will be financed through ad valorem taxes or by fees.
The county had recently anticipated joining the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (UTGCD) that includes Hood, Parker, Montague and Wise counties directly to the north of Somervell. Somervell County commissioners have been working to join the district and had been told by commissioners in other counties that they would be welcome in the district. However, a recent vote by the UTGCD board members declining to include Somervell caught the county off guard. UTGCD said adding Somervell would force the district to put their development on hold and reorganize.
The county does have the Somervell County Water District that manages surface water.
“We don’t have any regulatory control over groundwater,” said General Manager Kevin Taylor.
He said three years ago the county approached the state legislature about combining the ground water and surface water districts, but the request was denied.
“They like for the groundwater districts to be more than one county,” Taylor said.
Maynard said one possible solution would be to create a new four-county district with Johnson, Hill and Ellis counties.
“My feeling is we must do something now,” Maynard said.
Commissioners approved a motion stating they did not want the county to be placed into a PGMA by the TCEQ and they wanted to determine which district Somervell joined.
UTGCD held a board meeting Monday night in Montague and voted not to allow any other counties in.
Complicating matters for Somervell are rapidly changing laws. Commissioner Mike Ford has been trying to follow the developments and the recent rule changes.
“It’s difficult when you can’t depend on information coming in because the rules are changing as we speak,” Ford said.
How much time the county has is unclear. Ford said there is supposed to be a two-year window, allowing counties time to evaluate all options, before being put into a PGMA. But even that information is hazy and no one is sure when the clock started ticking.
Ford added District 22 Republican Texas State Senator Kip Averitt, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, has agreed to help the county find a suitable district.