Burleson-Milam Property Owners Worry Vista Ridge Pipeline Will Drain Their Wells

Nov 9, 2015

BURLESON COUNTY -- Opponents of the Vista Ridge water pipeline are preparing for a public protest rally Tuesday.  Critics from San Antonio want council members to vote “no” on a 50 percent increase in water and sewer rates that will be needed to pay for the project. 

Property owners who live over the aquifer are driving to San Antonio for the protest.  Their concern is more basic.  They worry the water project will drain their wells and make their land worthless.

After working 30 years in the oil fields, Kenneth Goetsch--who everyone calls Gabbo--bought 200 acres in Burleson County. 

He raises cattle that stop to lap water from an artesian well.  He hunts deer on his land.  He says it’s his own little piece of heaven.

“I guess people have big homes or like to be on a jet,” he mused while driving his pickup along a narrow path through a hayfield.

“I like to sit and look through binoculars and watch a mamma have a baby deer or a cow have a baby.  Just sittin’ out here enjoying life.”

But Goetsch believes his quiet way of life is being threatened by the proposed Vista Ridge pipeline.

If San Antonio City Council members give the go-ahead, the pipeline will transport water 142 miles from the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer, beneath Burleson and Milam counties, to San Antonio’s growing population. 

Competing hydrology reports reach different conclusions about how the pumping will affect the aquifer.  That has Goetsch questioning whether the local groundwater district knows enough about how the aquifer will respond when pumped.

“There are faults in here and they don’t know how the water penetrates between those faults, how fast it goes through, or how fast our recharge is.  And I’m thinking we’re going to pump water faster than we can recharge it,” he says.

Ranchers Gabbo Goetsch and Andy Hovorak oppose the Vista Ridge pipeline saying it may drain wells in Burleson and Milam counties.
Credit Shelley Kofler / Texas Public Radio

Andy Hovorak, another rancher with 600 acres, says, “I would love to see this project shut down.  I’ll be honest."

At a picnic table under a towering oak, Hovorak and Goetsch draw diagrams of the aquifer formations as they explain their concerns.  Hovorak is a former board member for the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District, the agency charged with making sure pumping doesn’t remove too much water from the aquifer.

He doesn’t believe the safeguards are in place to protect shallow wells that rely on specific formations within the aquifer.

“The people on the north end of the Simsboro (Formation)--where there’s not formations below it--their water wells will be gone and will have to have water piped to them,” Hovorak says.

A growing number of landowners have also come to that conclusion, thanks in part to the numbers crunching done by their neighbor Curtis Chubb.  Chubb has been looking at aquifer reports and writing about them in local newspapers.  He claims the Post Oak groundwater district has already failed to respond to situations where the aquifer has fallen below levels that require action, though the district says that’s incorrect.

Chubb believes the amount of pumping planned with Vista Ridge will doom wells that draw from the Simmsboro Formation.

“When it drops 300 feet--which is the desired condition--the wells in Milam County will be dry.”

Gary Westbrook is general manager with the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District. He says regulations are in place to prevent the aquifer from being depleted.
Credit Shelley Kofler / Texas Public Radio

Gary Westbrook, the general manager of the Post Oak groundwater district says that won’t happen.

He says the facts are complex and the critics don’t understand what’s going on.

In an hour-long presentation Westbrook explains how the groundwater formations are aligned and how the district expects the aquifer to behave. 

“The nice thing about this aquifer, there’s so much water and it’s so flexible.  I don’t know you’d ever see a time when you’d cut people off.  You might curtain, but if we had to, we have that authority.  And the documents on file signed by the permit holders admit we have that authority.”

Westbrook says he too raises cattle on land that relies on the aquifer.  He says he takes his responsibility to protect the aquifer seriously.

“There’s nothing more precious to me--other than my salvation and my relationship with the Lord--than the family farm,” Westbrook says.  “And having my kids able to come back here and settle some day, and my grandkids, and knowing if they come back here to live there will be water.”

Under the oak tree, Gabbo Groesch and Andy Hovorak talk about other worries:  a leasing agent who has threatened property owners when they don’t want to sell their water rights, and the pittance paid to those who sell their water while leasing agents cash in.

Goetch, however, says the big worry is running dry because San Antonio is growing and thirsty.

“You know San Antone is outgrowing itself fast as it can.  And on top of that they have the best aquifer in the world.  And they want to cover it up and get someone else’s water.  Stop and think.  Respect me,” Goetsch says.

Goetsch says he’d be less opposed to the pipeline if the water level at which pumping stopped was much higher. 

Without that, he doesn’t believe his property is protected, and he just wants the pipeline stopped.